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Retained Surgical Sponges: Incidence and Costs

Surgical sponges left in the body (most often in the abdomen) after surgery are a patient safety issue with financial repercussions:  payment penalties, malpractice costs, and damage to the provider’s reputation.

The exact incidence of retained sponges or other surgical items is not known, but two key studies cite a rate of 1 in 5500-7000 cases, with sponges the most frequently retained item.

The number of malpractice cases and average indemnity costs for retained foreign objects are cited in the article, based on data from the Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions and the Physician Insurance Association of America Data Sharing Project.

Sponge counting practice protocols and automated sponge counting technology are available to prevent the problem of retained sponges, but the issue persists.

Source: Sloane T. The high cost of inaction: retained surgical sponges are draining hospital finances and harming reputations. Becker’s Clinical Quality and Infection Control, Aug. 12, 2013. http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/quality/the-high-cost-of-inaction-retained-surgical-sponges-are-draining-hospital-finances-and-harming-reputations.html

Related resources:

Beyond the count: preventing the retention of foreign objects. Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory, vol 6, no. 2, June 2009, pp39-45. http://patientsafetyauthority.org/ADVISORIES/AdvisoryLibrary/2009/Jun6%282%29/Pages/39.aspx

Berger PS and Gordon S. Objects retained during surgery: human diligence meets systems solutions. Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare, Sept/Oct 2008. http://www.psqh.com/sepoct08/objects.html

Sawyer M and others. Health care protocol: Perioperative protocol. 4th ed. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. Perioperative Protocol. Nov 2012. https://www.icsi.org/_asset/0c2xkr/Periop.pdf

Posted by AHA Resource Center (312) 422-2003, rc@aha.org