A new device that tracks and locates retained objects (surgical items left inside a patient after an operation) is getting attention. The RF Surgical Detection System uses a wand to scan the surgical area to find any tagged items that might have been left inside the patient. Tags are small seed-like items that are embedded in gauze and surgical sponges.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine a major hospital can expect to have one or more cases of retained objects per year. Those figures however, were based on actual medical malpractice claims, so the real number is probably higher. It is generally believed that an object is left in the body in 1 of every 8,000 surgeries, the most common item being the surgical sponge.
Most hospitals rely on a counting system. Nurses count the number of sponges that are being used in a procedure, and then make sure they have the same number of used sponges in sight before closing the patient. If the count doesn’t match, then the patient cannot be closed. Sometimes, however, nurses count incorrectly (or forget).