It's been suspected for a long time, but the body of scientific literature is growing in support of the hypothesis that RFID could prevent surgical sponges from being left inside patients after surgery.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine last week presented a poster at the American College of Surgeons' 2010 Annual Clinical Congress in Washington, D.C., that largely corroborates previous studies about RFID being as effective as X-rays and manual counting in detecting sponges. "RF detection is not going to replace counting [sponges] in the operating room, but it can be used as an adjunct because, from what we're seeing in the preliminary data, it adds a lot to the safety of the procedure," gastrointestinal surgeon Dr. Christopher Rupp, the study's lead investigator, said in a UNC press release, HealthDay News reports.
According to the Wilmington (N.C.) Star News, estimates of the extent of the problem of surgical sponges left inside patients have varied widely. Some say sponges get left behind only once per 18,000 operations, while at least one study has pegged the rate at 1 per 1,000 procedures.
The UNC-Chapel Hill study tested RFID-tagged sponges in 1,600 operations. In most of those cases, the surgical team passed a wand over the patient's body to detect sponges, though some used newer technology embedded in a mat on which the patient lies, the Star News reports. Either way, RFID was at least as accurate as other detection methods.