Hospitals underuse technology to prevent retained surgical items

Many hospitals have yet to embrace technologies that would reduce the risk of leaving surgical items in patients, USA Today reported.

Retained foreign bodies, such as sponges, account for almost half of all reported surgical "never events," according to a Feb. 28 announcement from University Hospitals in Ohio. With 32 million surgical procedures performed annually, roughly 4,000 retained sponge incidents occur each year, or about 11 per day.

Such incidents can rack up high costs for awards and legal fees, not to mention non-reimbursable services and poor pay-for-performance metrics, according to University Hospitals.

In fact, hospitalizations caused by a retained sponge or instrument cost hospitals an average $60,000 per case, while related malpractice suits average between $100,000 and $200,000 per case, noted USA Today.

St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco, for instance, has been fined $75,000 for leaving a foreign object in a surgical patient. St. Mary's is among seven California hospitals that face a combined $775,000 in fines for patient safety violations, FierceHealthcare reported last month.

But with already tight budgets, hospitals hesitate to implement tools that reduce the risk of leaving sponges and instruments in patients. Fewer than 15 percent of U.S. hospitals use sponges equipped with electronic tracking devices, according to a USA Today survey of the device manufacturers.

Some hospitals and health systems have found that sponge-tracking systems not only improve patient safety but also save money. IU Health only spends about $8 per surgery to implement a sponge-tracking system at its three hospitals. In return, the hospitals haven't lost a sponge in five years, USA Today reported.

The University of Michigan Health System uses bar codes for sponges and electronic radiology orders to keep track of tools used during operations and prevent the so-called never events, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

For more:
- read the USA Today article
- here's the University Hospitals announcement