New Study Finds Bar-Coded Surgical Sponges Improve Patient Safety

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A randomized controlled trial conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in affiliation with Harvard Medical School, finds bar-coded, computer-assisted surgical sponge counting systems reduce the chance of counting errors during surgery by a factor of 3 to 1.

The results of the study, conducted by patient safety researchers Dr. Atul Gawande and Dr. Caprice Greenberg, were published recently in the Annals of Surgery (Ann Surg 2008;247: 612-616).

Previous studies have shown that counts are falsely reported as correct in the majority of cases of retained sponges and instruments, resulting in the surgical team incorrectly believing that all the sponges are accounted for. The Boston study was based on 300 general surgery operations and showed that using a bar-coded surgical sponge system during surgery detected more than 10 times more counting errors than traditional counting methods in cases where sponges were misplaced or counted incorrectly.

“Leaving surgical sponges inside patients happens more often than people think and far more often than it should,” said Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a co-author of the study. “Surgical teams have been seeking a solution to this problem for decades and this trial of a computer-assisted method of counting surgical sponges gives us reason to believe a viable, proven and cost-effective solution has at last been found."

“It’s estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 cases of retained surgical sponges occur every year, and that’s simply not acceptable,” says Bill Adams, CEO of SurgiCount Medical, a division of Patient Safety Technologies, Inc., a manufacturer of bar-coded surgical sponge counting systems.

“This study clearly validates internal studies of our Safety-Sponge™ System and confirms the results our customers have seen in the field,” Adams added. “With its introduction to hospitals almost two years ago, the Safety-Sponge™ System has been used in at least 80,000 procedures without incidence of one retained sponge. I’m confident this study will help persuade medical institutions nationwide to update their sponge-counting methodologies, help eliminate ‘false correct’ counts that lead to retained items, and finally eradicate this needless risk to their patients and to themselves.”

SurgiCount’s Safety-Sponge™ System consists of individually bar-coded surgical sponges and a portable scanner that enhances traditional hand sponge counts. The system is used by healthcare institutions around the country, including the University of San Francisco Medical Center, University of Florida Shands, Loyola University Health Center Chicago, and Integris Health System, among many others.

Source: SurgiCount Medical