An earlier study revealed that one in every 10,000 patients who undergo surgery has a foreign object, usually a sponge, left inside them by medical personnel. These objects can cause post-surgical complications and even death.
"We need a system that is really fail-safe; where, regardless of how people use this technology, the patient doesn't leave the operating room with a retained foreign body," said Alex Macario, a physician and professor of anesthesia who led the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and a grant from the Small Business Innovation Research Program.
Researchers tested the technology by deliberately leaving RFID tagged sponges inside eight study participants' temporarily closed surgical wounds, and then waving detector wands over them. Although the RFID tags help locate the sponges, the 20-millimeter chips used were too big to be practical for everyday use and would need to be smaller in the future, according to the study authors.
Marcario said that the RFID tags would be most effective if used with other simpler techniques, like counting surgical tools and sponges before and after operations.
Two of the co-authors of the study own patents related to the RFID sponges, and work for ClearCount Medical Solutions, the company that developed them.