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RFID 100% Accurate in Surgical Sponge Tracking Test

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, February 8, 2011

Additionally, the report was important she wrote, because it specifically looked at whether RF tagging technology worked in the morbidly obese. While the trial, which received institutional review board approvals, did not involve surgical insertion of the sponges in a clinical setting, it was believed to be nearly equivalent to such a study because so much tissue separated the wand from the sponges, which were attached to the backs of the supine participants.

Also, compared with X-rays, RF tagged sponges may work better than X-rays, which also have difficulty in patients with high BMI.

Her report, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Surgery, did not compare the cost of the RF tagging system against the cost of surgical teams simply engaging in routine counting of those items before or after surgery, (77% accuracy) or use of X-rays before the patient's surgical wound is closed.

Other published literature suggests the cost to providers, including medical and legal expenses for each retained surgical sponge is about $200,000 on average.

Additionally, since October, 2008, those costs have gone up. That's when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stopped reimbursing hospitals for additional patient care costs related to sponge retention, which is considered a serious reportable "never event."

CMS regulations expected to ensue from one section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act dealing with hospital-acquired conditions will result in lower reimbursement for hospitals with higher rates of retained surgical sponges.

Despite all these disincentives, surgical teams continue to unintentionally leave surgical implements inside one in every 5,000 patients. Of those sponges account for between 48% and 69%.

According to a report from Saint Vincent's Hospital, 54% of those sponges are left in the abdomen, 22% in the vagina and 7% in the thorax.

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1 comments on "RFID 100% Accurate in Surgical Sponge Tracking Test"


Jonathan (3/11/2011 at 4:28 PM)
One important statistic you ommitted is the rate at which surgical sponges are retained in patients as a function of the usage of surgical sponges. I suspect this is some small number per million, i.e. for every million sponges used five are retained in patients. Given this rate of retention we can then do a cost benefit analysis. Cost per sponge retained = $200,000 Sponges retained per million sponges used = 5 Cost per million sponges used = 5 * $200,000 = $1,000,000. Cost per sponge = $1,000,000 / 1,000,000 = $1 Now assume the RFID sponge retention rate is zero per million sponges used. (Perfection is unlikely but it makes the math easy.) If the RFID sponge costs $1 more than an orginary sponge it will not be cost effective. If the RFID sponge costs les than an ordinary sponge it will be cost effective.