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Retained Surgical Items and Medical Malpractice

Retained Surgical Items and Medical Malpractice

Surgeons are supposed to know what they are doing. They are responsible for our lives when we are in our most vulnerable state – unconscious and unwell. Because of the serious effects their actions have on our lives, the law holds them to a high standard of performance. In reality, surgeons make mistakes like anyone else. So do the other people on surgical teams, including assistants who may not be as experienced.

One of the most serious types of surgical mistake concerns retained surgical items (RSI), also called retained surgical instruments or retained foreign bodies (RFBs). RSIs are items that have been unintentionally left inside a patient’s body during a surgical procedure. It does not include objects that are intentionally left inside a patient, such as a stent or an implant. No one is entirely sure how often RSI situations occur, but estimates range from one in every 100 surgeries to one in every 5,500.

The most common foreign objects left inside a patient after surgery are sponges and towels, which can cause inflammation, infection, or worse.  These may not be discovered until weeks, months or even years after the surgery. Under Hawaii law, victims only have two years from the date when they knew or should have known of the mistake to file a medical malpractice case. A six-year statute of repose places a strict time limit on these cases, even when the injury is not discoverable until later. An exception exists, however, when a medical professional is aware of the RSI and fails to disclose it.

While sponges and towels are the most common RSIs, other objects left inside patients include medical instruments such as scopes and tubes. Some of the most dangerous items left in patients are sharps —a category that includes pins, needles, knives, blades and scalpels.

The effects of foreign objects left inside the body’s cavities are numerous. Sponges and towels cause blockages, obstructions and growths. Sharp items cut and tear organs and tissue. Other items host infections or prevent healing. Serious injuries and illnesses develop from RSIs.

Medical facilities have a variety of procedures in place to prevent these situations. Counting, the use of barcodes on medical devices, and the use of RFID tags on devices all help eliminate this problem. Still, these surgical errors persist. If you have been injured by a surgical team in the Honolulu area, consult the personal injury attorneys at Shim & Chang. Call us now at 808-524-5803 or contact us online to schedule a free initial meeting with an experienced local attorney.