Detecting sponges in surgery patients

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: October 24th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Millions of surgical procedures are performed each year in the U-S, and the vast majority of them are successful, with nothing more than the expected recovery time to worry about. But on rare occasions, surgical sponges and other sterile items used during an operation get left behind… inside the patient.

Recent research estimates that foreign objects are inadvertently left in patients at the conclusion of about one in every one-hundred-thousand open-cavity surgeries. And about two-thirds of the items left behind are sponges. Currently O-R staff count surgical items before, during and after procedures, but the method isn’t failsafe.

Now a novel study reveals that a handheld radio wand passed over the site of the operation before surgeons suture a patient closed could help O-R personnel easily detect specially tagged surgical sponges accidentally left behind after surgery.

Stanford University researchers tested the device on eight patients who were having abdominal surgery. Before closing each patient’s wound, a surgeon put either a tagged or an untagged sponge inside while a second surgeon looked away. The flaps of the wound were pulled closed. The second surgeon then passed the wand over the patient. The sensor wand detected the flagged sponges one-hundred percent of the time, in less than three seconds.

If eventually brought into common use in the O-R, the wand would still remain a mere backup to the extensive checks that operating room teams already use… but an important one nonetheless.