This is an archived article.

December 7, 2001

Information about medical errors

The following statement is from Dr. Eric Larson, medical director at University of Washington Medical Center:

“Widespread news coverage has been given this week to Donald Church, who, in the course of a lifesaving procedure at UW Medical Center in June 2000, experienced a serious medical error. A malleable surgical retractor was left in Mr. Church’s abdomen following his operation. The retractor was later removed, and fortunately this mistake has no long-term consequences for Mr. Church’s health.

“As stated to reporters earlier this week, our hospital has accepted full responsibility for this error, publicly apologizing to Mr. Church and implementing procedures to further reduce the likelihood of another such incident. These procedures include counting retractors. Our staff works diligently to count accurately and discover ways to improve our processes and aims for zero defects. Thus, we have dedicated additional resources to expedite a thorough review of all of our operating-room counting practices in order to re-engineer any related process or procedure that would further increase patient safety.

“We know of four other, very similar errors involving retained metal surgical instruments that have occurred at UWMC since 1997. As one of the nation’s top teaching hospitals and a public institution, we feel it is important to discuss these medical errors.

“The most recent case involves a patient who had a very complex abdominal surgery at our hospital in September. A malleable retractor used in closing the incision was mistakenly left in her body; we removed the object in October. We have accepted responsibility for this error and apologized to the patient. As in the case of Mr. Church, the woman has made a full recovery from her cancer surgery and is doing well.

“Although there is very little published data on the subject, we feel confident that errors of this kind are uncommon. At UWMC, for example, they represent one in approximately 12,000 cases per year–or less than .01 percent of all cases performed at UWMC since 1997.

“We assure the public that they can continue to have confidence that care delivered at our hospital is second to none. Incidents such as these reinforce our resolve to improve the safety of health care in every way possible.”

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