Science News

Operation Concealed Swab

Sat, 29th Jul 2006

Part of the show Crowd Control, Football Hooligans and Singing Mosquitoes

Doctors now have a clever way to make sure that patients aren't stitched up by shoddy surgeons leaving pieces of operating equipment inside their bodies. Writing in the journal Archives of Surgery, anaesthetist Alex Macario, from Stanford University  in California, has come up with the idea of using the same RF-tags that help to deter shoplifters to label operative equipment. This way a wave of a detector wand over a wound before it is closed can be used to confirm that no stowaway scissors, scalpels or swabs are left behind inside the patient. In an initial trial, tagged items were concealed inside wounds before closure and a surgeon, who id not know where or how many items were left, was asked to locate and remove them, which took an average of 3 seconds and there were no false positives. US company ClearCount Medical is now working on ways to miniaturise the tags, which are about the size of a small coin. As this is larger than some operative equipment, there's some way to go. Also, although incidences of items being left behind inside patients are rare at 1 case in 10,000, the consequences for an individual patient can be devastating which is why such a simple and low cost approach like this could make a huge difference.

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