Surgical objects have been left inside hundreds of patients in Canada over the last few years

It is apparent that even those in the positions that demand the most precision and garner the most respect — like, say, a job where you literally hold someone's life in your hands — are susceptible to human error.

Take, for example, the doctors who accidentally leave foreign objects such as sponges and surgical tools inside the bodies of hundreds of patients in Canada each year.

New data in a report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information today shows this number to be far higher than one might reasonably expect, and that it's getting worse.

The most recent stats show that 9.8 per 100,000 patients discharged from surgery in Canada were unlucky enough to have left with some... er... extra parts. This equated to 553 patients in 2016-2018.

This number may seem low, but not when compared with the rates of places like New Zealand (1.9 per 100,000 in 2015), Finland (2.1 per 100,000 in 2015), and the overall average rate of the 12 countries that comprise the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which was 3.8 per 100,000 discharges.

And, Canada's most recent data shows 14 per cent increase in such incidents from 2013 to 2017-2018.

CIHI director of emerging issues Tracy Johnson, in talking with CityNews, attributed these numbers to the fact that"things happen" in operating rooms, especially during instances when surgeries are long and doctors are changed out partway through.

Though Canada fared better than the OECD average in other areas of the study — we have fewer heart disease mortalities per 100,000 patients, for example — rates were staggeringly high for things like avoidable post-surgical complications and trauma during childbirth (Canada had double the average and the highest rate per 100,000 deliveries 16.4).

It is also noteworthy that the numbers, which are meant to provide a glimpse of how Canada's healthcare system measures up to those of other countries, vary greatly between provinces: B.C. had the lowest rate of foreign bodies left in surgical patients, 5.7 per 100,000, while Quebec had the highest, 15 per 100,000.

It's clear that as much as Canadians are inclined to boast about the luxuries of free healthcare, our system could use a lot of improvement in many ways.

Lead photo by

Jafar Ahmed

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