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Surgeons leaving sponges behind, part 3

Retained objects such as surgical sponges can be a hazard to Georgia patients undergoing routine surgery. One of these hazards is the high risk for complications, discussed in a previous blog post. However, recent advances in technology have made strides toward preventing retained surgical sponges.


Some of these prevention methods are simply more advanced versions of sponge counting. The New York Times says that sponge storage units are now in use at some hospitals. Nurses verify that all of the sponges are accounted for by checking the slots for each sponge. Other methods rely more on technology. Some sponges are scanned before and after surgery via a bar code planted inside. Another technological method includes radio-frequency tags. To ensure that no sponges are left in a patient by accident, these tags act as tracking devices. These technological advancements are not always seen as a necessity, however; bar codes and radio-frequency tags are used in less than 1 percent of hospitals.

Efforts have been made to change the way hospitals think about surgeries and patient safety. According to Becker’s Healthcare, patient safety report cards are included with hospital evaluations and cover retained items. Hospitals with low safety scores are finding ways to improve both their patients’ safety and their reputations. Other efforts include ensuring that hospitals feel the full financial burden of surgical mistakes, as a retained surgical sponge can be up to nine times as expensive as the technology to prevent it.


Hospital staff members have come to realize the severity of the problem. In a survey of registered nurses, 61 percent were concerned about retained surgical sponges and other items. There may be a solution underway. Preventative technologies and their associated costs have been sponsored by one insurance agency so that some hospitals can install them. Although these methods are currently rare in hospitals, they may soon be widely adopted.

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