The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 16, 2012

Bar coding sponges safeguards against surgery mishaps

MANKATO — These types of mistakes don’t happen often. But if your surgery is the one in 6,000 where it does, you’d probably wish some additional measures had been taken to avoid having a surgical sponge left inside you when it was over.

“One in 6,000 is rare, but it’s one too many,” said Steve Campbell, chief medical officer for patient safety for Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. “The consequences of a sponge left behind can be huge.”

In 2009, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester implemented new technology to avoid such mistakes. It’s a simple bar code reader, but the way it is used has the potential to cut down on human error dramatically.

As of last week, that same technology is now being used in Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato and Mayo Clinic Health System in New Prague.

Here’s how it works:

In surgeries and childbirth, a package of sponges will be used. The wrapped package comes with one bar code, which is scanned at the beginning of a procedure. When the procedure is complete, the sponges — each of which has an individual bar code — are scanned individually to make sure each is accounted for. They’re also counted manually as has always been the case.

The reason for going to a bar-code scanner was simple: safety.

In the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent annual report of so-called “adverse incidents,” Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato had just one incident flagged. Campbell said this week that the incident involved what is known as “retention of a foreign object in a patient after surgery or other procedure.”

That case, for which specific details are not releasable, involved a surgical sponge.

“We would hope going forward that we would never have another retained sponge,” Campbell said. “We’ve put in a system that reduces the chances of human error by one more step.”

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