Surgeons Leave Medical Objects Inside Their Patients about 6K times a year. Should you be worried?

Medical Malpractice lawyer

There is a real problem here

Two years ago I had to have my appendix removed. I had terrible stomach pain for 2 days before I finally checked myself into the ER. It was diagnosed as appendicitis and required emergency surgery. I trusted that the surgeon and hospital staff knew what they were doing. The surgery went well, or so I was told.
As it turns out a scalpel was used to make a 3 inch incision instead of the more common laparoscopic procedure. My incision ended up getting infected and the doctor removed the staples so the site would heal from the inside out. I was left with a gaping hole in my body for about a month before it finally healed and left me with a large ugly scar.

I would not call my experience exactly pleasant, but this is nothing compared to the experience of the 6000 people a year that are sent home with forgotten surgical objects still inside them. It’s commonly referred to as a “retained surgical item.” Sponges, scalpel blades, and forceps are a few examples of the items that sometimes get overlooked when a patient is closed up. Most of the time a patient will assume the extra pain is from the surgery itself.

What happens when a medical instrument is accidentally is left inside a patient?
It depends on the object. Sponges for example can fuse to the intestines and cause an internal blockage. Suture needles can puncture through organs and cause pain and damage. The body will reject the object and will become infected and potentially lead to sepsis. Some people can go months or even years without knowing what is wrong. Sponges do not show up easily on x-rays although newer developed ones are suppose to be easier to detect. This is something that is “never” supposed to happen and there is no excuse for it.


  • There are over 32 million surgeries performed a year.
  • Approximately 6000 patients per year retained medical items from a surgical procedure.
  • That is an average of 16.4 patients per day.
  • If you are going in for surgery there is a 1 in 5300 chance you will leave with a surgical object inside you.

surgical sponges left in patients

What is most troubling
This problem is completely preventable. There are multiple inexpensive technology that detects if anything is left behind. Sponges account for 67% of lost medical objects according to the USA TODAY. Sponge tracking systems only add about $10 to the overall cost of the surgery, yet only 15% of hospitals use them.
Medical Malpractice Settlements
When people hear of high value medical malpractice settlements sometimes they become slightly envious. What is not often understood is the actual amount of pain and suffering that the victims are going through. Recently there was a case where a man kept going to the doctor because he thought he had a simple stomach flu. As the weeks passed his condition got worse until he would not stop vomiting. A CT scan showed multiple sponges embedded into his intestines that were accidentally left in from a previous surgery a year prior. He required multiple surgeries to remove the dead parts of his intestines. After filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, he received a settlement that was six figures. Only a small amount of money is left as it was used on legal fees and medical expenses from follow up treatments.

medical malpractice lawsuit
This is what we are referring to when we say that you should wait until all your medical bills have come in prior to settling.
What can you do to prevent this?
Ask your hospital questions. Make sure they use the protocols like instrument tracking technologies. Mayo clinic has used sponge tracking technology for the past four years and has not lost a single sponge. If you have had surgery and you suspect something went wrong, contact a lawyer. They generally will have advise on what doctor to go to for a second opinion.


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