Could miscounting lead to a medical mistake?

There are many reasons that medical mistakes happen, and patients can suffer serious harm. These mistakes are often known as “never events” because they shouldn’t happen, but there are thousands upon thousands of cases every year.

You may be wondering why these mistakes happen, and the reasons vary from instance to instance. But it’s important to note that even the smallest error can lead to a critical mistake. For example, simply miscounting could lead to a significant surgical error.

How can this happen?

The issue here is that the surgical team is supposed to count the implements that they’re using. That includes things like needles, scalpels, clamps and other such items. But it also includes things like sponges or gauze, which may seem less dangerous – but which can actually blend in significantly during the procedure.

If the team doesn’t count correctly, they could overlook one of these items or implements. This can lead to it being retained after the procedure. A patient could experience all sorts of complications, from pain at the surgical site to a lack of healing. In some cases, the retained item can cause further damage or lead to a life-threatening infection.

Correct count cases

One interesting thing to note is that about 70% of these cases happen after a correct count is made. The count wasn’t actually correct, of course, but the surgical team did come up with the right number. It’s been compared to counting cards and getting 52 – which you know should be correct – when you don’t have the full deck.

This shows that teams aren’t necessarily skipping the step of counting, but simply miscounting the implements that they’re supposed to have. There are a lot of reasons that this happens, such as trying to count and remember the number concurrently, getting distracted by other events in the room, dealing with excess noise and trying to work quickly under the pressure of a timely procedure.

Moreover, patients often don’t even realize that a mistake has been made at first. They expect to have some pain while they heal from the surgery, so they can delay the diagnosis further. If something like this happens to you, make sure you’re well aware of your legal options.