Patient safety reminder

August 11, 2006

Sponges beep, surgeons retract.

Sponges beep, surgeons retract.

Sponges left inside a patient during surgery can be detected electronically, using the same technology that retail stores use to catch shoplifters (Reuters, July 17).

A study at Stanford University School of Medicine showed that sponges imbedded with radio frequency identification devices (RFID) could be spotted with a detector wand while inside a surgical site. True, the RFID chips are still a wee bit large (0.8 of an inch), but that can be solved.

The real question is why we need such a high-tech device to detect foreign objects left inside patients. A simpler method to prevent the patient from leaving surgery with a sponge or an instrument in his body would be to count the supplies before and after the operation, according to Alex Macario, the professor of anesthesiology who led the study. But he told Reuters that he still sees the need for a system that's truly "fail-safe," including the use of RFID chips.