New surgical sponge system improves patient safety at U.S. hospital

Doctors in Chicago are highly competent professionals, but these professionals do make mistakes. However, when doctors make mistakes, patients could be seriously injured or killed. To avoid making dangerous mistakes, hospitals and medical professionals have been able to identify common errors and they have come up with simple solutions to make sure these “never events” never happen.

One common mistake that can be made during surgery is leaving a sponge or surgical instrument inside a patient’s body. This surgical error is entirely preventable when surgical teams keep track of the number of sponges going into the patient and later coming out of the patient. Yet, this type of mistake still harms patients every week, suggesting that not all hospitals have implemented effective policies and procedures to prevent this mistake from happening.

Researchers have determined that each week in the U.S., about 40 sponges are left inside patients. This can result in very serious problems for patients.

In an effort to prevent this surgical error from occurring, surgical teams must make sure they have effective processes in place to account for all sponges used during operations. One medical center counts each sponge by hand as the sponges go in and come out of a patient, and in the instant an inaccurate count is suspected, everything stops.

Additional staff is called to the operating room and an intensive search begins. Workers even search through trash until every single sponge is accounted for and taken out of a patient. During the search, the patient remains under anesthesia and the surgeon does not end the procedure until he or she knows with absolute certainty no sponge has been left inside the patient.

Another process to reduce the risk of sponges being left inside patients is also being implemented at the same hospital. A new type of sponge called the RF Assure System has recently been developed. Each sponge contains a radio frequency tag so that if a sponge is unaccounted for, the surgical team can simply run a wand over the patient listening for the signal the tag emits. That signal identifies exactly where the sponge is located so the surgeon can quickly find it and remove it.

Of course, implementing these types of processes can be costly. But hospitals must understand that patient safety comes first and implementing effective processes to reduce medical errors will only create a safer environment for patients.

Source: My Fox Atlanta, “Hospital uses new system to help prevent surgical mistakes,” Beth Galvin, Jan. 8, 2013


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