Surgery requires a precise assortment of instruments, as many as 200 for a lengthy, complicated procedure, constantly organized before, during and after the operation. In the past, nurses and surgical techs relied upon identifying instruments via meticulous processes of recording serial numbers or scanning barcodes, either stickers or codes laser-etched onto every instrument. This of course meant every item needed to be picked up and manually scanned, tedious routine for any hospital. As a result, many surgery patients unnecessarily endure life-threatening complications due to retained surgical items (RSI), such as a cotton swab or surgical instrument being left behind post-surgery.
Infusion of intelligence into consumables and surgical instruments can help hospitals eliminate the costly errors and avoid potential loss of lives. Nothing Left Behind, the international campaign for raising awareness on RSI, has been trying to virtually eliminate RSI incidents in ORs worldwide. Hospitals around the world are participating in pilot programs where tiny passive UHF RFID tags are permanently affixed to surgical instruments, enabling item-level tracking of their entire surgical inventory, saving time and money, while improving patient safety.
RFID Tracks Surgical Instruments
RFID surgical instrument tracking systems enable hospitals to have a faster, comprehensive accounting of materials before and after surgery, and is strongly advocated by Nothing Left Behind. Wanding an RFID reader over the patient can accurately detect tagged foreign objects inside the body, as has already been successfully tested on pigs. These systems are expected to become a new standard throughout the hospital community, as indicated in one market research firm’s recent report projecting a nearly $205 million market in the US by 2021. We’ve already partnered with makers of surgical instruments to co-develop viable RFID technology to incorporate into their products. [1,2]
These systems scan instruments and other items from a distance, individually or a full set simultaneously. After each item is tagged and cataloged into a central database, it can be instantly tracked and accounted for, either by handheld RFID readers or a series of fixed scanners providing full coverage of a wider area within the facility. With tighter inventory control, fewer instruments are misplaced or lost. RFID tags have also been proven to be more durable than barcodes during the extreme heat and pressure of cleaning and sterilization, surviving numerous cycles in hospital autoclaves. The benefits of RFID in hospitals extend beyond surgery as well.
Most large hospitals experience several episodes every year of surgical items left inside patients after closing, from clamps and needles to sponges and other soft items. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, responding to these mistakes costs the U.S. healthcare industry an estimated $2 billion annually. Typically, following surgery two-person teams conduct meticulous manual counts to assure the post-op inventory of instruments and materials equals the number counted pre-op. If the numbers don’t match, the first course of action has been to take costly x-rays to look for stray instruments, even if the patient can’t detect something is amiss inside their own body.
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