Surgeons under scrutiny: Leaving items inside patients during surgery in Philadelphia hospitals

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published April 12, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Even in the age of new technology, human errors can make or break a surgery.

  • Surgeons emphasize the importance of education, precision, and teamwork before, during, and after a procedure.

Reporting by The Philadelphia Inquirer has revealed that surgeons at Philadelphia-area hospitals mistakenly left objects inside patients’ bodies more than 200 times in the last six years. The number of incidents has raised alarm among surgeons, some of whom are highlighting the importance of technology, teamwork, and education before and during surgeries.[]

Using technology to reduce human error in surgeries

Countless surgical tools and techniques are used to increase the accuracy and ease of procedures. Matthew Casavant, MD, the founding physician of South Lake OB/GYN & Advanced Surgery in Clermont, FL, says he’s seen firsthand “the dramatic reduction in human error” that new technology can facilitate in surgeries.

Dr. Casavant uses robotic surgery at his practice, which, he says, offers “unprecedented precision that significantly mitigates the risk of complications.”

“By allowing for more precise movements and improved visibility within the surgical field, these advanced technologies enable surgeons to perform complex procedures with a level of accuracy that simply wasn't possible with traditional techniques,” Dr. Casavant says.

But innovations do not cancel out the risks of human error. Instead, they illuminate the need for surgeons to be sharp-minded and stay up to date about any nuances or changes in their craft.

Using teamwork to reduce human error in surgeries

In his 33 years of experience in breast surgery, including reconstruction and revision procedures, Mark Anton, MD, FACS, Founder and Medical Director of OC Breast Surgery in Orange County, CA, says he’s observed how teamwork can minimize human error in surgeries.

“Fostering a culture of collaboration among the surgical team, including nurses, anesthesiologists, and technicians, is crucial,” Dr. Anton says.

Dr. Anton recommends holding “regular multidisciplinary meetings to discuss complex cases,” as this can prepare the whole team for potential challenges and allow them time to plan for mitigation strategies should a compilation occur.

“The complexity of breast surgery, especially revisions, requires not only skill, but [also] an understanding of the myriad ways a procedure can evolve,” Dr. Anton says. “In my practice, taking these steps has been instrumental in reducing human error, improving patient outcomes, and advancing the field of breast surgery.”

Using education to reduce human error in surgery

“The importance of continuous education cannot be overstated in our quest to minimize human error in surgeries,” Dr. Casavant says. 

Education is especially important alongside robotic surgeries and other medical advancements, which are not replacements for human care, Dr. Casavant adds. 

“Incorporating these advances into our practice isn't just about adopting new technologies; it's also about refining our techniques and improving our decision-making process in real time during surgeries,” Dr. Casavant says. “This ongoing education, combined with hands-on experience, is critical for any surgeon looking to minimize error and improve patient outcomes.”

Along with education, he stresses the importance of putting time and effort into consultations and procedure-planning, as well as giving personal attention to your patients.

“Open and transparent communication with patients before, during, and after surgery ensures that they are fully informed and that their care is tailored to their specific needs. It also reinforces the multidisciplinary approach to patient care, ensuring that everyone involved in the surgical process is aligned and focused on the best possible outcome,” Dr. Casaveant says. “This level of meticulousness and dedication to patient care, from the point of decision-making to post-surgical follow-up, is crucial in minimizing human error and enhancing the overall quality of care.”

What this means for you

Continuous education on new surgical innovations is crucial for reducing errors in surgery. Despite the advancement of new technologies, human errors continue to pose risks in surgeries.

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