RFID tags used to prevent post-op mistakes by hospitals

The University of North Carolina Hospitals recently implemented a radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging system to prevent surgical instruments from being left in patient bodies after surgery. The rollout was part of a multi-hospital study to determine the efficiency of the technology.

Here's how it works: Clinicians place a detection mat under the patient and after surgery, conduct a scan of the patient's body. All surgical tools and supplies are fitted with RFID tags, and are identified on the scan if they are still in the surgical cavity or elsewhere in or on the body, hospital officials explain.

"[T]his adjunctive technology has helped us [prevent] unnecessary X-rays and repeat surgeries and potentially lowering anesthesia time," UNC surgeon Christopher Clarence Rupp said in a statement.

While manual counting by operating room personnel is the standard-of-care in preventing RSI, adjunctive technology is an important added security feature to further improve patient safety," said RF Surgical Systems co-founder Jeffrey Port, whose technology is being used.

A clinical study conducted by the VA Medical Center in Iowa City, Iowa in February came to a similar conclusion. Tracking several hundred surgical sponges, the blinded clinical trial found a 100 percent accuracy rate with a tagging system. With counting protocols, anywhere from 62 to 88 percent of the cases of surgical materials left behind occurred when the count was correct, the study's author notes.

One particularly important group for use of the RFID technology is morbidly obese patients, the VA study found. They have a higher incidence of retained surgical objects to begin with, and X-rays conducted before or after surgery are less effective at highlighting tools or sponges left behind.

To learn more:
- read the HealthCare IT News story
- get more detail from Health Data Management
- check out RF Surgical's announcement
- dig into HealthLeaders Media's story about the VA study

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