New Surgical Sponge Technology

The word is out – the SmartSponge system is the new buzz in perioperative circles these days. For perioperative nurses, this could signify an end to the formerly endless manual sponge counts!

Retained sponge incidents jeopardize hospital reputation and cause catastrophes for staff and patients. Published studies indicate that today one in every 1,000 to 1,500 intraabdominal surgeries results in a sponge left behind in the patient (Clearcount Solutions, March 2009).

Although the majority of U.S. hospitals still use traditional sponges that require manual counts, an increasing number of hospitals have switched to more technologically sophisticated sponge systems that automate the counting process to enhance patient safety.

In spring of this year, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City became the first hospital to switch to the SmartSponge System, which encompasses chip-embedded sponges and display monitors. These sponges allow the operating room team to locate and account for surgical sponges intra- and post-operatively. This effectively eliminates the risk of human error. These SmartSponges use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to record each sponge's internal chip, and display the total on a monitor. Once sponges are used and discarded into a special receptacle with a built-in sensing device, a tally is kept.  If a missing sponge is identified, it can be digitally located while still inside the patient.

Large hospitals with numerous operating rooms go through hundreds of thousands of sponges a year. Admittedly, this new system will significantly escalate sponge costs, but for hospitals there's a cost-benefit trade-off. Although the use of these sponges increases the cost of each surgical procedure by an average of $30, the litigation and management costs for a retained sponge far exceed the initial outlay.

As of October 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and a number of private insurers no longer reimburse hospitals for procedures associated with “never events” including retained surgical sponges, which are the most frequent retained foreign body.

To learn more about Smart Sponges, visit: http://www.clearcount.com/product.htm or view the free Industry Training Program for SmartSponges on the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) website at: http://www.aorn.org/PracticeResources/IndustryEducationPrograms/. Free non-accredited training programs are now available on the AORN Seal of Recognition Directory.