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New technology helps reduce surgical errors

About one in every 6,000 surgery patients leave the operating room with a surgical sponge inside them. The odds may seem small, but for the people that experience this, it can be traumatic and also threaten their health. The current system in place to try to prevent this is typically that a nurse counts each sponge before and after surgeries, to make sure that none are left behind. This is done with other surgical materials as well.

However, this procedure does not totally prevent human error, which is how those few unlucky patients are left with an errant sponge. These incidents are upsetting to patients and costly to hospitals when they must perform an additional surgery to remove the sponge. It can also give rise to a medical malpractice lawsuit, which patients bring when they believe that a doctor or other healthcare provider did not exercise reasonable care.

The Mayo Clinic has introduced new technology to prevent these errors. Starting in 2009, they began using a bar-scanner when counting the sponges after surgery, to try to eliminate human error in the process. Since the technology has been implemented, there have been no incidents. However, incidents persist in hospitals that are not using the technology. The bar scanners and bar-coded sponges are being rolled out in some of the other hospitals in the Mayo Clinic system and will hopefully be introduced to many more hospitals nationwide.

“If we prevent one retained sponge, it pays for itself many times over,” said a Mayo Clinic spokesperson.

Source: The Mankato Free Press, “Bar coding sponges safeguards against surgery mishaps,” Robb Murray, March 16, 2012

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