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Hospital dramas often feature plots where a surgeon is not paying attention and leaves something in the patient during surgery. These scenes plant seeds of fear in many people, giving them yet another reason to worry about going into surgery. Experts call these overlooked objects retained surgical items, retained surgical foreign bodies, and many other names. This preventable medical error can have serious consequences for the patient, the surgeon, and the hospital as a whole.

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1. How It Happens

Many factors contribute to a surgeon leaving an object in their patient. Mainly, surgery is extremely difficult and usually requires extreme concentration. Anything that disrupts a surgeon’s attention, such as exhaustion or working in a chaotic environment, could lead to a mistake. A review of 59 incidents associated the presence of a trainee to a 70% lower risk of retained items. This is likely because the instructing surgeon was paying more attention to the operation to ensure their charge was well-trained. Most incidents of retained surgical items are the result of poor medical instrument counting. By counting incorrectly or losing track, surgeons and nurses will not notice that they have left an object in the patient. Retained surgical items are discovered most often in abdominal surgeries.

surgeons operation room Thierry Dosogne / Getty Images
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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.