News. Insights. Information.

Stay up on the latest.

What Can Surgical Techs Do to Prevent Retained Surgical Items?

torrance-ca-allied-health-staffingEvery day throughout the country, people undergo surgical procedures to address a wide variety of problems or issues. Unfortunately, during some of these procedures, a surgical instrument may be left behind after the surgery is complete. That can cause major problems for the patient.


During a procedure, a surgical team may use numerous instruments. In some cases, one of those instruments may be overlooked when the surgery is coming to a close. These items are known as “retained surgical items,” and the results can be catastrophic. When a surgical sponge was discovered in one hysterectomy patient four years after surgery, it had spread an infection, adhered to the bladder and stomach area and abdominal cavity, and required the removal of a large segment of the intestine.

During surgery, it’s common to count most items to avoid situations like this. However, that’s not always the case. The OR staff at one California hospital didn’t even realize that a blue towel had gone into the patient during his abdominal surgery. But there it was three months later. As a result of this retained item, the hospital was fined more than $86,000. However, even when items are counted, the chaos can make it easy to miss an item.

New Solutions

Technology affects every aspect of everyday life, and it has the potential to make a tremendous difference with this problem, as well. With bar-coded sponges, computers help do the counting. Bar codes are scanned when sponges are used and scanned again when they’re taken out of the body. X-rays can be useful, as well. X-rays to find retained items are performed while the patient is still in the operating room.

However, these solutions help only if hospitals and other surgical facilities take advantage of them. The nation’s hospitals have balked at using electronic technologies that sharply cut the risk of sponges being left in patients. Fewer than 15% of U.S. hospitals use sponges equipped with electronic tracking devices, based on a [2013] USA TODAY survey of the companies that make those products.

A Surgical Tech’s Role

This is an issue for all surgical personnel, and every member of the team can play a part in addressing it. This is true whether new technology is in place or not. Retained surgical items are a preventable medical error. Surgical [technicians]…can play a crucial role in warding off this avoidable mistake and ultimately protecting the lives of…patients.

There are several specific things surgical techs can do to help address this problem. The first is to check the condition of all items passed and returned on the field; the second is to remain knowledgeable and up to date about instruments, tools, and surgical items. The third is to maintain a standardized back table, and the fourth is to speak up and question if something seems amiss.

Working Together to Solve the Problem

At 365 Healthcare Staffing Services, we specialize in the recruitment and placement of healthcare professionals in per diem, travel, and permanent assignments in healthcare facilities across the country. We share your commitment to addressing the problem of retained medical items; if you are looking for a temporary or permanent assignment, give us a call at 310.436.3650 today!