In the hectic, stressful setting of an operating room, it can be easy to lose track of the dozens of surgical items—needles, scissors, retractors, sponges — used in a patient during a typical surgery. And indeed, each year 4,000 cases of retained surgical items are reported, the majority of these retained items being sponges.

Smooth operating

Technological solutions are being put in place to protect patients from this easy-to-make, but potentially devastating medical error.

“Bar codes are used on everything from breast milk to patients’ wrists. Almost 50 percent of honor roll hospitals and academic medical centers now use bar code technology on their sponges.”

Radiofrequency tags can be sewn into the sponges and then the patient “wanded” to locate any errant sponges. The simplest technology, however, is much more familiar.

Bar codes

“Bar codes are used on everything from breast milk to patients’ wrists,” explains Bill Adams of SurgiCount Medical. Attaching a bar code to each sponge and scanning the sponges as they go in and come out of the patient is an almost foolproof way of keeping up with sponges.

“Almost 50 percent of honor roll hospitals and academic medical centers now use bar code technology on their sponges,” says Adams.