New Study Finds Bar-Coded Surgical Sponges Improve Patient Safety


May 14, 2008

May 14, 2008 - A randomized controlled trial conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital in affiliation with Harvard Medical School found bar-coded, computer-assisted surgical sponge counting systems reduce the chance of counting errors during surgery by a factor of three to one. The results of the study, conducted by patient safety researchers Dr. Atul Gawande and Dr. Caprice Greenberg, were published recently in the Annals of Surgery An article summarizing the study results entitled "Bar-Coding Surgical Sponges To Improve Safety: A Randomized Controlled Trial" can be found at Previous studies have shown that counts are falsely reported as correct in the majority of cases of retained sponges and instruments, resulting in the surgical team incorrectly believing that all the sponges are accounted for. The Boston study was based on 300 general surgery operations and showed that using a bar-coded surgical sponge system during surgery detected over 10 times more counting errors than traditional counting methods in cases where sponges were misplaced or counted incorrectly. "Leaving surgical sponges inside patients happens more often than people think and far more often than it should," said Atul Gawande, M.D., MPH, surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a co-author of the study. "Surgical teams have been seeking a solution to this problem for decades and this trial of a computer-assisted method of counting surgical sponges gives us reason to believe a viable, proven and cost-effective solution has at last been found." The study validates the bar-code counting system developed by SurgiCount Medical. The company said since its introduction to hospitals almost two years ago, the Safety-Sponge System has been used in at least 80,000 procedures without incidence of one retained sponge. The Safety-Sponge System consists of individually bar-coded surgical sponges and a portable scanner that enhances traditional hand sponge counts. The system is used by healthcare institutions around the country, including the University of San Francisco Medical Center, University of Florida Shands, Loyola University Health Center in Chicago, and Integris Health System. For more information:,