How a wand is making a difference in surgery

March 24, 2011 2:18:57 PM PDT
We would like to think that nothing will ever go wrong when we are in surgery.

Mainly because the surgery alone is enough on our plate, but the reality is errors do occur and they can be life threatening and costly.

Hospitals are taking steps to prevent one type of error from happening. There is a new instrument called a medical wand and it is used to catch unintended items that get left inside a patient after surgery.

This actually occurs pretty frequently. In fact, according to a State Health Department report, it happened more than one hundred times in New York state alone.

Dr. David Feldman of Maimonides Medical Center is very grateful for the addition of the Medical Wand in the operating room.

"In a particularly complex, long operation imagine using literally hundreds of sponges or pads and the traditional way to make sure we haven't left them in somebody is to ask nurses to count them before, during and after the procedure," Feldman said.

Even though nurses continue to count all the sponges and gauze pads during surgery, the surgeons at Maimonides Medical Center now have back up. The Medical Wand can assure surgeons that no pads, gauzes or sponges have been left inside the patient.

The items now carry a radiofrequency chip. If one were mistakenly left inside the patient, then the wand would beep when the patient is checked.

If there is no beep, then the surgeons know that nothing was left behind.

"Our goal is to try and make sure at the end of every operation, we've done everything we can to make sure we haven't left, unintentionally, something in a patient," Feldman said.

A surgery that is long and complex, can involve hundreds of items. While keeping track is part of a well-honed system, it is not one that is perfect. The wand provides extra security and peace of mind for the doctor and patient. It is even used in Laparoscopic surgeries, where only small hole incisions are made.

Dr. David Sherwinter, a surgeon also at Maimonides Medical Center, explains how the mistake of leaving objects in patients can happen.

"The sponges will often get full of bodily fluid and blood and you'd be surprised at how much they look exactly like the rest of the body and are very difficult to find," Sherwinter said.

This is why the Medical Wand is a great addition to hospitals.

Nearly a quarter million dollars yearly is absorbed by the hospital, says Dr. Feldman, and not passed on to patients. Feldman feels a good amount of this money can go to bringing the Medical Wand into more operating rooms.

"It's just something we feel is important to improve patient safety, so we're willing to pay a significant price to do that," Feldman said.

The Medical Wand could ultimately save a lot of money and lives.