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Simple scanning technique prevents surgical sponge errors

Approximately one in 6,000 surgical procedures carried out in the U.S. involves the type of medical malpractice in which a surgical sponge is left inside the patient after the procedure is over. This can lead to serious and even life-threatening consequences, often from infection. But patients in Maryland and nationwide should be pleased to learn that a simple and inexpensive method has been developed which may help prevent such errors.

The new technique involves the use of a simple bar code reader. Packages of sponges to be used in surgeries or childbirth are routinely scanned. But the beauty of the new technique involves scanning every sponge in the package, each of which has its own unique bar code. Medical personnel double check this by manually counting the number of sponges.

In this manner, doctors, nurses and other operating room personnel have the information they need to make sure that every sponge is accounted for. In operating rooms where the method has been tried out, it has already greatly reduced the number of incidents in which a sponge was left inside a patient, enhancing patient safety.

Any concern that the new procedure would be too time-consuming seems to have been alleviated, and the benefits in saving patients from injuries or death are clearly worth the few extra moments involved. Trials of the system in one area since 2009 resulted in not a single incident of a sponge being left inside a patient following the scanning of more than 1 million surgical sponges. The technology produces easily traceable information and helps to reduce possible human error in the hurried and stressful atmosphere of the operating room.

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

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