Thursday, February 07, 2008

Surgical Sponges -- Phone Home!

Don’t you just hate it when a surgical team forgets and leaves something inside you? Maybe it causes some rattling or that uncomfortable bloated feeling? Actually, it’s very serious.

A fix is coming -- at least for overlooked surgical sponges. A new high-tech system phones home when a sponge is used on a patient during the operation and again when the sponge is removed.

Not only that, but the device knows who put the sponges in and will tattle if one gets left behind!

Asterisc21 photo

Loyola University Health System in Illinois observed about 1500 cases every year where an object was left in the patient after surgery. Overlooked sponges are most commonly left behind because they soak up blood and look like part of the patient’s body.

So how does a dumb sponge call home? A tiny cell phone?

Nope, barcodes!

O.R. staffs now have sponges with a unique bar code attached to each. Just like when you’re buying groceries, somebody on the surgical team waves the sponges in front of another high-tech thingamajig that registers each sponge, its number, the time and the user. The clever machine knows who used the sponge because it reads the person’s bar coded badge!

Then, at the end of the operation, the device announces in a loud voice -- and displays on a bright screen -- if any sponges are missing and may be left behind. Otherwise, the patient might be inclined to call his attorney-at-you-know-what!

More bar codes for other surgical tools are coming next.

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