Which item is most often left inside a surgical patient?

The item most often left inside surgical patients, according to an article published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, is the surgical sponge, often difficult to see once soaked in blood and pushed inside of a body cavity.

A group of researchers used data from the University HealthSystem Consortium Safety Intelligence database to analyze when retained sponges were immediately identified, versus when they were identified at a later date. They found surgical teams using both counting methods and radiofrequency technology had the best likelihood of identifying sponges and avoiding complications related to retained surgical objects. According to the team, radiofrequency was the most accurate and cost-effective tool for keeping track of surgical objects.

According to CMS, the incidence of retained surgical objects is around 1 in every 6,000 surgeries, or 8,500 per year in the United States, at a cost of $63,000 per item removal. Luckily, these numbers are going down, according to a report from The Washington Post. The Post spoke with authors of a 2012 study conducted at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill that analyzed trends in surgical object retention.

Radiofrequency technology also resulted in better tracking of surgical objects in that study, in which a group of hospitals with RF tracking reduced retained surgical objects by 93 percent between 2006 and 2012, while hospitals without RF reduced retained surgical objects by 77 percent during the same period.

In that study, of 824 reports of retained sponges, the authors found 41 were left unintentionally. Twenty-eight were discovered after the surgical cavity was already closed, nine were discovered after the patient was no longer in the OR but was still in the hospital and four were discovered when the patient had been discharged. RF technology helped identify about half, 23, of the retained sponges, according to the report.

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