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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In the check-out line: Safe counts for surgical sponges

Brian Stewart's background is in the investment industry, including investments in medical device companies. To help in his due diligence, he would often reach out to friends, family and outside consultants with clinical backgrounds. Much of that dialogue would result in clinicians sharing their thoughts on issues they often faced in their daily practice. This is where he first became aware of the issue of retained surgical sponges, their frequency and the real economic and human costs. Brian's father, a surgeon, added additional perspective by sharing the realities of the operating room and the typical usage of sponges in surgery. From a number of previous investments Brian had made, he was relatively familiar with various forms of automatic identification, including simple barcodes, two-dimensional codes and RFID technologies. Thinking out loud to his father as they stood together in a line at a grocery store, watching a woman quickly scan each item in their cart and hand them a detailed receipt of each item, he pondered "Why not use a technology of some sort to help nurses count more accurately?" That was the beginning of the company they co-founded, SurgiCount Medical.

Brian and his father worked for years to develop a cost effective, safe solution. Finally they found something that worked well, from the garment industry – it uses iron-on thermal transfer labels. So a bar code on a piece of plastic is basically melted onto the sponge, placing a unique identifier on each sponge. When used with a small handheld scanner, the solution helps increase the accuracy of sponge counts, in that each sponge can only be counting IN once and OUT once. This addresses the underlying issue in the vast majority of retained sponge cases, false "correct" counts. That is still the core of the product that the company Brian is CEO of today (Patient Safety Technologies, which acquired SurgiCount back in 2005) offers, called the SurgiCount Safety-Sponge. That has proven to help eliminate retained sponges and the costs associated with them for those using it, which includes over 65 hospitals, including five of US News and World Report’s 2010-11 Honor Roll Hospitals.

Now, in the February 2011 issue of the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, there's an article about a multi-year study, the largest ever done on retained foreign objects, in which the Mayo Clinic examines the occurrence rates of retained sponges and profiles the success that Mayo had by implementing the Safety-Sponge System there. Before implementation, Mayo was averaging a retained sponge every 64 days (about one in 8,000 operations). Eighteen months after implementing the Safety-Sponge System and using over 1.8 million Safety-Sponges in more than 87,000 cases, they have not had a single retained sponge. In addition to the usage at Mayo, over 32 million Safety-Sponges have been successfully used in more than 1.6 million operations.

Read a story on a http://www.PatientSafetyBlog.com/2007/01/they-dont-count-non-surgical-towels.html">retained object.

Thanks to Brian Stewart for our phone interview for this blog post and to Stephanie Pavol.

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