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Medline Markets RF System for Surgical Sponges

Designed to reveal sponges and gauze inadvertently left inside patients, the RF-Detect system received FDA approval this month.
By Laurie Sullivan
Nov 22, 2006Medline Industries, a U.S. distributor of medical supplies, has begun marketing a medical system that uses radio frequency (RF) to detect any surgical gauze, towels and sponges left behind in human bodies after an operation. The Mundelein, Ill., distributor says the first orders will begin shipping the system, called RF-Detect, to hospitals in December. Two hospitals should have the system running by early January, with 10 centers adopting it during the first quarter of 2007.

RF Surgical Systems, medical device company based in Bellevue, Wash., developed RF-Detect, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory approval on Nov. 3. The platform aims to augment manual procedures in place that require surgical teams to count equipment before performing operations and then recount just prior to sewing up the body.

RF Surgical's Jeffery Port
The sponges do not contain passive RFID tags, however, but rather much simpler RF tags that work akin to electronic article surveillance (EAS) tags used by some retailers. An RF tag emits a signal when within range of reader, but that signal is not encoded with a unique identification number, as would be the case with an RFID tag.

"Although nurses do a good job keeping track of sponges, gauze and instruments in the operating room, there are several patients who retain objects in their body," says Jeffery Port, chairman of RF Surgical and thoracic surgeon at Weill-Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. "The fear that we're going to leave something behind also creates chaos when manually counting equipment after the operation."

RF-Detect is the brainchild of Port, who dreamed up the concept 10 years ago and presented it to electrical engineer William Blair, now RF Surgical's chief technology officer, after becoming concerned about incorrect equipment counts following surgical procedures. The two men jointly designed the system and founded the company.In 2004, as the technology matured, they built a prototype system.

The platform now consists of passive RF 145 kHz tags, about the size of a rice kernel, embedded in surgical gauze, sponges and instruments; areader; and a handheld wand containing an antenna connected to the interrogator. To detect any tagged items left a patient's body, hospital personnel pass a handheld wand over the patient. The reader would then pick up the RF signals of any tag items left in the patient's body.

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