Surgical equipment counts help prevent mishaps

By Tom Nordlie • Published: January 28th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Inventory control is crucial to some jobs.

You wouldn’t patronize a supermarket where milk sits in the cooler for months.

And you wouldn’t patronize a hospital where surgical teams routinely leave sponges inside their patients.

To guard against these mishaps, most surgeons assign personnel to keep track of equipment and make sure it’s accounted for when the operation ends.

This practice is called a surgical count.

It works pretty well, and it’s definitely needed, according to a study published in the journal Annals of Surgery.

Researchers analyzed almost one-hundred-fifty operations conducted at one hospital. To collect data, specially trained physicians acted as observers.

During each operation, nurses conducted numerous counts on items such as sponges, instruments and needles. Each item was noted on paper. A final count was performed after closing.

The results?

In one out of eight operations there was a discrepancy at some point.

About sixty percent of these problems involved a misplaced item. Almost forty percent resulted from errors in the written records, including math errors.

Fortunately, all the discrepancies were resolved in the O-R.

However, previous studies indicate that one out of five-thousand surgical patients leaves the hospital with a foreign object onboard.

The researchers say surgical counts are a must, but more needs to be done. New technologies may improve accuracy.

But the bottom line is, surgeons must treat every discrepancy as a potential disaster.

A little extra time spent chasing after that missing sponge may save a lot of heartache for everyone involved.