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"Surgical Objects left in Body after surgery
1500 Times Each Year"

BOSTON - Surgical teams accidentally leave clamps, sponges and other tools inside about 1,500 patients nationwide each year, according to the biggest study of the problem yet.

The mistakes largely result not from surgeon fatigue, but from the stress arising from emergencies or complications discovered on the operating table, the researchers reported. ''...no one in any role would say it's acceptable,'' said Dr. Donald Berwick, president of the Boston-based nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

The study was done by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health, both in Boston. It was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers checked insurance records from about 800,000 operations in Massachusetts for 16 years ending in 2001. They counted 61 forgotten pieces of surgical equipment in 54 patients. From that, they calculated a national estimate of 1,500 cases yearly. A total of $3 million was paid out in the Massachusetts cases, mostly in settlements.

Most lost objects were sponges, but also included were metal clamps and electrodes. In two cases, 11-inch retractors - metal strips used to hold back tissue - were forgotten inside patients.The lost objects were usually lodged around the abdomen or hips but sometimes in the chest, vagina or other cavities.

The study found that emergency operations are nine times more likely to lead to such mistakes, and operating-room complications requiring a change in procedure are four times more likely.

Source: Jeff Donn The Associated Press.

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