Joint Commission answers foreign object question

Accreditation Connection, April 30, 2007

Last week the Joint Commission posted a new FAQ on its Web site to clear up confusion about retained foreign objects after surgery.

The FAQ clarifies the definition of "after surgery" as after the skin is completely closed. If a foreign object is left in the patient once the skin is closed, it is considered noncompliance and it is considered a reviewable sentinel event.

The Joint Commission says once the skin is closed, the patient is at a greater risk for harm even if he or she is still under anesthesia when the problem is noticed.

The FAQ does, however, say that a broken needle or screw fragment may be intentionally left in the patient if removing it is riskier than leaving it. In this case, leaving the foreign object in would not be considered unintentional, and therefore a sentinel event review is not required.

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