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Barcoded sponges make surgery safer for patients

When a patient in Ohio goes to the hospital for an invasive surgery, one of the tools doctors often use are sponges. Medical sponges help soak up blood so doctors can see the area that they are operating on. While sponges are important in surgeries, too often, they get left behind. What we mean by this is that doctors complete a surgery but fail to remove all sponges from the patient before stitching up the incision. These left-behind sponges can cause serious and long-term problems in patients. 

The problem with left-behind sponges stems from the system that is currently used by most hospitals. Staff members count the sponges as they go into the patient and count them as they are taken out, making sure the numbers match. Sponges are miscounted, however, as often as 15 percent of the time. In fact, one study found that sponges are left behind in an average of five surgeries every day. Fortunately, there may be a fix for the problem. 

Some companies have begun outfitting surgical sponges with barcodes. Electronic counters can pick up on the barcoded sponges, even when they are saturated with blood, making sure no sponges are left behind. 

Although barcoded sponges are now standard in a handful of hospitals, most continue to use the counting method. Unfortunately, this unreliable method puts patients at risk of suffering a serious injury or worse. As the benefits of barcoded sponges become more widely understood, hopefully hospitals in Ohio will consider making the switch for the safety of their patients. 

Source: BloombergBusinessweek, "Can Technology Stop Surgeons From Leaving Sponges Inside Patients?" John Tozzi, March 25, 2014

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