Never events involving ''lost surgical objects'' continue to rise

"Lost surgical objects,"' as the phrase is referred to, is one of many different types of never events that occur in hospitals all across the country. Never events are essentially preventable medical errors that occur in healthcare settings. And, new data suggests that these specific types of never events happen more frequently than originally thought.

What are "lost surgical objects?"

"Lost surgical objects" essentially is a phrase that means a medical tool or supply used during surgery is accidentally left inside a patient's body cavity after surgery.

It's common for various sponges, tools, medical supplies and instruments to be utilized during any typical surgery. And, when there are so many tools used, it's often hard to keep track of them all. In some instances, these tools are accidentally left inside a patient.

Repercussions of "lost surgical objects" events

When this happens, patients typically suffer months and even years of severe pain and infection. This is because after surgery, the object likely goes undetected-until a catastrophic infection or illness sets in for the patient.

Along with infection, the digestive systems of some patients malfunction. Others will have complications for the rest of their lives as a result of this preventable medical error.

Inaccurate data

What's more alarming is recent data provided by USA TODAY that shows that the number of cases of "lost surgical objects" are actually higher than previously estimated.

Previous government estimates indicated that sponges or items left inside patients occur around 3,000 times a year. However, new government data suggests that the number is actually upwards of 6,000 times a year.

Continued progress

Some hospitals have taken measures to reduce these instances since the occurrence of never events came to light over a decade ago. Some healthcare entities count tools before and after surgery; other healthcare facilities use electronic tracking devices on sponges and supplies. However, reports show that only 15 percent of hospitals utilize these electronic tracking methods.

It remains to be seen whether this statistic will continue to increase. Presently, there is no mandated federal requirement for healthcare entities to report never event instances such as sponges or medical supplies left inside patients.

Some states require the reporting but a 2012 study conducted via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that healthcare entities mandated by state law to report these events only report 1 percent of all events.

Until such drastic accountability is implemented, it's likely the number will rise in future years.