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Bar codes on sponges diminish medical malpractice

The longer a patient undergoing a procedure in Louisiana or elsewhere remains under anesthesia, the more likely the risk for complications. Therefore, there is a sense of urgency to get the patient in and out as quickly as possible. Due to this time-sensitive nature, mistakes happen and things can get left behind, resulting in a medical malpractice case.

Reportedly, around one in 6,000 cases of surgery and medical procedures result in an "adverse incident," often times in the form of a sponge left behind inside the body of the victim. The repercussions for such a negligent mistake can be huge. To reduce the rate of medical malpractice and adverse events, a new bar code scanning procedure for sponges is being implemented in some areas across the country.

The concept is very simple. A package of sponges is scanned before a procedure begins. Each sponge in the package also has an individual bar code that relates back to the package code so at the conclusion of a procedure all the sponges are again scanned to ensure each is accounted for.

One doctor is quoted as saying, "This technology adds a layer of redundancy and takes out the element of human error." The concept is a safety net that adds virtually no additional time to the procedure. Nurses always count the number of sponges at the conclusion of a procedure to ensure that there are not any left behind. With the barcodes, as the nurses are counting the sponges out, they are simultaneously scanning them to make sure all are accounted for.

In places that have implemented this system there has been a sharp decrease in the number of sponges left behind. If this or something similar was implemented in Louisiana, there may be a decrease in the number of medical malpractice cases.

Source: The Free Press, "Bar coding sponges safeguards against surgery mishaps," Robb Murray, March 16, 2012

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