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While surgical errors are rare, mistakes do happen

Chances are, residents in the Houston, Texas, area have either gone through surgery themselves or know someone who has. With millions of operations performed each year, surgeries are considered common these days. For the most part, they occur without any problems or complications. However, a Loyola University study found that many surgical errors occur each year.

According to the study, around 1,500 patients in the U.S. have surgical objects left in them after surgery. The most common of these objects are surgical sponges, used to control the bleeding that occurs during the surgery. When left inside of a patient, they can lead to pain, infections and other serious medical complications.

Doctors have a name for these cases where objects are left in patients during the surgery. They call them "retained surgical items." These cases have prompted doctors to create guidelines in order to prevent them from happening, including methods to help account for all the items used in the surgery, such as RFID chips and special strips that show up in x-rays.

These types of surgical errors draw attention to the important issue of negligence in medical malpractice cases. Medical professionals are held to a higher standard of care than the general public. For a member of the public, the person's conduct is based on how a reasonably prudent person might act in the same situation or circumstance.

For medical professionals, their practice or conduct is judged at a level of competency and professionalism that must be in line with the specialized training, experience and care of a reasonably prudent physician operating in the same or similar position. This is what is known as the standard of care or professional duty that doctors owe to their patients. When this standard of care is breached, and the patient suffers an injury, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice.

While it is important for patients to choose doctors and surgeons wisely, sometimes even highly skilled physicians can breach the standard of care owed to their patients. Often, such breaches can cause serious injuries. It is important for patients to know what legal remedies are available to them in the event they are injured by their doctor. Patients could be entitled to compensation if their doctor acted negligently.

Source: Public Opinion, "Glance: Surgical slips rare but costly," Jan. 17, 2013

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