How long do you want to wait after surgery in a North Carolina hospital to have your surgical wound closed? The answer is probably, “No longer than necessary.” However, you also do not want to worry that the surgeon left a tool or surgical sponge inside your body. That means that at least one person in the operating room must account for every instrument and piece of gauze.

According to the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, that could take a considerable amount of time because the surgeon may use as many as 250 instruments during your surgical procedure. For example, your surgery may require tools for the following activities:

  • Cutting
  • Gripping
  • Cauterizing
  • Suctioning
  • Absorbing blood
  • Suturing

This is why there are so many reports of patients suffering severe injuries from clamps, needles, sponges and other retained surgical objects.

Fortunately, there are technological advances that can help count sponges relatively quickly. Sponges equipped with radio-frequency identification tags can be identified with an antenna, displaying their location on a screen. Many hospitals are already using sponges with RFID chips to reduce the risk of harm to patients. However, this technology has proven problematic when it comes to metal surgical tools.

As you would hope, all reusable tools undergo a very stringent sterilization process between uses. This process has undermined the effectiveness of the tags in many cases. New technology from the Institute, in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital clinicians, has the potential to fix this problem. It involves embedding the chips directly into the metal surface and applying a sealant that is biocompatible and not affected by sterilization.

When the use of this technology becomes more widespread, it may reduce or eliminate the possibility of retained surgical objects.