Device spots sponges left behind

Major operations require dozens of sponges—pieces of gauze used to mop up blood—and surgical teams keep track of them by counting how many go in and come out. However, sponges are the surgical objects most often left in patients. Surgeons may soon have a new way to detect sponges accidentally left inside a patient.

Gauze left inside a patient can cause inflammation, infection, and intestinal blockages. An earlier study showed that 57 patients in the United States died from foreign bodies left inside them in 2000.

In the July Archives of Surgery, researchers report that in tests during operations, doctors promptly located stray sponges labeled with radiofrequency identification chips.

The physicians tested the new technology on eight volunteers who were undergoing abdominal surgery. Near the completion of each operation, one surgeon looked away as another placed a few tagged sponges and one untagged sponge inside the surgical cavity and then closed, but didn’t suture, the wound. The labeled sponges had radiofrequency tags the size of a nickel sewn into them.

The other surgeon then used a wand to scan the patient externally for the labeled sponges. The surgeons located all the tagged sponges, says coauthor Alex Macario, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The new device will require regulatory approval.

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