Technology Helps U. of Michigan Health System Keep Track of Surgical Tools

By Dan Bowman
 
Bar codes for sponges and electronic radiology orders are just two of the ways surgeons at the University of Michigan Health System are keeping track of tools used during operations. The effort is an attempt to cut down on the "never event" of leaving an object in a patient's body after surgery, according to U-M Associate Chair of Clinical Affairs Ella Kazerooni, M.D.

"Unfortunately in complex cases, surgical cases that involve emergencies or in very large patients, items can be left behind in the body," Kazerooni said in an announcement. "[W]e want to do everything we can to prevent that."

In the case of sponges--one of the more common tools left behind in a patient--a bar code on a radiopaque tag allows for the item to be scanned both before and after a procedure to ensure a correct count. Should a post-surgical discrepancy arise, an X-ray can be ordered to scan the patient for the sponge.

The use of electronic radiology orders, meanwhile, streamlines the imaging process after an operation.

"The challenges of involving radiology in the operating room are mostly ones of communication and timing," Kazerooni said. "[T]here needs to be good communication with the radiology department to get the technologist into the OR as quickly as possible. We don't want to delay the surgery or lengthen the anesthesia time unnecessarily."

University of North Carolina Hospitals last year implemented the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging to prevent surgical instruments from being left inside patients. The move was made after a study by UNC researchers determined that such tagging was just as effective as X-rays for sponge detection, and could improve patient safety.