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RFID chips could aid surgical litter-bugs

Medics demand small spongeworthy wand

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RFID tags could be used to make sure surgeons don't leave anything behind in patients they have been operating on, something which happens roughly once in every 10,000 operations.

A common thing to be left behind is a sponge, so the usual practice is to count the number of sponges before and after surgery - hoping that the number is the same both times.

This is obviously vulnerable to human error, and research has shown that when sponges have been left behind, the count has been shown to be falsely correct in more than three quarters of non-vaginal surgeries.

RFID tags have been proposed as a solution to this problem, Reuters reports. Sponges and other instruments could be tagged, and then an RFID detector swept over the patient after surgery to make sure nothing had been missed.

A small study of eight patients, reported in the Archives of Surgery, tested the technique. During abdominal or pelvic surgery, sponges were placed inside the patient. Some were tagged, others were not. A surgeon who had no knowledge of the tagged status of the sponges then ran an RFID wand over the patient, checking for the sponges.

Every tagged sponge was detected, and no untagged sponges were falsely reported, the researchers report. On average, it took just three seconds for the wand to locate a sponge.

"When we started, I was concerned about the technological part of the problem," Dr. Alex Macario, the lead author of the study told the news agency. "But our study found the device works 100 percent of the time.

"The real challenge is how you incorporate a new device into the workflow of the operating room. We need a system that is really fail-safe—where, regardless, of how people use a counting system technology, the patient doesn't leave the operating room with a retained foreign body."

The paper also notes that doctors and nurses had asked for a small wand. ®

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