Retained surgical sponges in patients are one of the most frequent and most costly surgical errors among hospitals, as well as the most commonly reported.
Each year hospital infections add an estimated $30.5 billion to the nation’s hospital costs, according to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. More than 100,000 deaths occur each year from preventable hospital infections, according to The Institute of Medicine. That number is more than the yearly deaths from AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.
David Palmer, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based ClearCount Medical Solutions Inc., a medical device company focused on patient safety solutions, has developed technology called the SmartSponge System to track surgical sponges, making hospital surgeries more efficient and reducing extra costs.
Smart Business spoke to Palmer about how this technology can benefit hospitals nationwide.
Where did this idea come from?
The original idea wasn’t from us, it was actually an operating room nurse who back in the mid-’90s had seen this reconciliation angst on a recurring basis and thought there had to be a better way to do this. Along with her husband, they came up with the idea that radio frequency identification technologies would be a great tool to help solve the problem. In 2004, ClearCount came about.
What are the inefficiencies your product is addressing?
There is a study published that one in 1,500 intra-abdominal surgeries results in a retained object. That gives you the magnitude of the problem that we’re addressing. Currently today, there is a manual reconciliation process that is performed in every surgical procedure. The purpose of that reconciliation is to make sure that they account for the number of things at the beginning of the surgical case, throughout the case, but most importantly, at the end of the case, to prevent that one in 1,500 intra-abdominal surgery event from occurring.
What happens is, whenever there is a miscount that occurs, there is quite a bit of time spent in the operating room trying to correct that situation. They’re trying to find that missing sponge by maybe digging through the garbage or recounting to make sure they didn’t make an error. There are a lot of things that are happening that impact the efficiencies when the count is off. That’s what we really prevent. We automate what is now an error-prone manual process in the operating room. We address both the patient-safety side of it, and through our automation and accuracy, we add efficiency to the operating room.
How does it work?
There is a radio frequency identification chip which is comparable to a tic-tac and that is sewn into the surgical sponges when they are manufactured. Each sponge has a tag which contains a unique identifier on it that allows that sponge to be counted. Before a case begins, the sponges are quickly scanned into the counting process and all those tags are read and they establish an in-count and then during and after the case, the sponges are discarded and that’s where they are counted out and there’s a display screen that shows the ins and outs and how many are missing. It tells you not only how many sponges, but the type of sponge. Then there is a wand attached to the device which allows the nurse or the physician to scan the patient or use it in the room to find a sponge as well.
Are hospitals looking to use this technology?
It’s a very immature market right now. I think the level of awareness clearly increased over the past 12 to 18 months. That’s the awareness that technologies are available to help the problem. The problem has been well known and documented. The solutions have been less well known, and that’s the reason for the relatively underpenetrated market. What we’re noticing now is that many hospitals are actually proactively looking for technologies to help with this problem.
What are the advantages for hospitals to adopt this technology?
First off, we offer to our customers an additional financial backing and we have a special policy that stands behind our products in the event that a hospital would incur an incident while using our technology.
There is also the advantage of the efficiency in the operating room. Because our product is so easy to use and not only includes the ability for the nurses to get an accurate count, but in the event that there is a missing sponge, we have the ability to find it as well. We are the only technology that can both count sponges and detect them.
HOW TO REACH: ClearCount Medical Solutions Inc., (412) 931-7233 or www.clearcount.com
ClearCount Medical Solutions Quick Facts:
Founders: David Palmer and Steven Fleck.
Goal: Uses RFID technology to prevent medical errors and make hospitals more efficient.
Hospitals nationwide are being pressured and, in some cases, forced to adapt to changing demands in the health care industry. Rising expectations in the quality of delivering care, the cost structure of health care and a looming shortage of personnel are just a few issues hospitals are looking for solutions to. Dr. Cary Gutbezahl, president and CEO of Compass Clinical Consulting, specializes in hospital consultation. His firm helps hospitals solve these issues by improving efficiencies.
Smart Business spoke to Dr. Gutbezahl about how hospitals are streamlining their operations to combat health care issues.
What are the most pressing issues facing hospitals today?
Hospitals are facing a couple of important challenges. One is rising expectations for the processes and results of delivering care. That means things related to improving patient safety, reducing the occurrences of undesirable events and reducing hospital readmissions.
The other pressure is the cost structure of health care. The way it has been funded has generated some pretty significant overhead costs and investment in technology that have made health care costs rise to the point where they are pretty much unsustainable both for private-sector insurance as well as for public insurance.
The third challenge which is looming on the horizon is shortage of personnel. In the future, with rising demand for health care services and the aging of the existing population, there is going to be a severe imbalance between supply and demand.
How are hospitals looking to solve some of these issues?
The challenges give hospitals a number of opportunities to make some changes both in their traditional scope of operation as well as expanding their scope of operation.
One of the areas that hospitals have had incentives to work on, but many hospitals haven’t addressed is the issue of how to manage hospital care expeditiously in order to minimize the amount of time and expenses that are provided for a patient.
A number of hospitals have patients stay a number of hours in the emergency department. They are sitting in the emergency department waiting for an inpatient bed, but in the meantime, they are not getting the physician consultation and diagnostic tests that you would normally get as an inpatient. One way that hospitals can accelerate care is to make sure patients either get to a bed quickly, or that the care process begins while the patient is in the emergency department so there aren’t hours waiting for things to happen.
They also have to recognize when a patient’s care can be safely transitioned to an outpatient setting. Some hospitals are identifying and working with the physicians and nurses to say this patient can get the rest of their care as an outpatient with home health care or with outpatient rehabilitation therapies.
What is the main focus of hospitals right now?
Right now there are two things that hospitals should be focusing on and they are related. One is called throughput. That is increasing the capacity of the existing facilities, meaning both space and people, by redesigning the way patients flow through the health care delivery system so that they move more quickly.
That means people sitting in the emergency room for less time so that the existing beds in the emergency room can accommodate more patients. It means moving patients through the inpatient side quicker so the hospital doesn’t need to build additional beds in order to house people for inpatient care. If hospitals have to build more beds, then the costs are going to rise. The only way to try and keep the cost of health care down is going to be to work on these through put issues throughout the hospitals. The ORs, the inpatient beds, critical care units, emergency department, all areas of the hospital where there are backups in terms of patient flow.
The second thing is looking at how we redesign the delivering of health care services so it becomes more efficient. One technique that’s being used on the outpatient side in a number of large multispecialty medical groups is the idea of group appointments. You have a number of patients who have similar kinds of clinical problems. Instead of meeting with each of them one by one … a number of these organizations are scheduling group meetings for patients who have [the same diseases].
HOW TO REACH: Compass Clinical Consulting, (513) 241-0142 or www.compass-clinical.com
Every industry constantly searches for the next thing to alter and improve how business is done. For Houston and the energy industry, that thing is clean technology. Lisa Epifani, an expert in the energy field, explains how it is bringing change to the energy capital.
Leading the energy industry
Houston will be a great leader in the clean tech world. Texas is super lucky to have great resources for wind and solar energy, and Texas has been harnessing those newer and renewable resources.
Clean tech versus oil and gas
It’s obvious that oil and gas are going to be a major part of the portfolio for a long time. We have to acknowledge that and be realistic about the tradeoffs as we transition to cleaner and cleaner fuels. Houston is positioned well, given its knowledge of the energy industry and its geographical location. Texas is a very attractive location for a number of headquarters. Houston is an attractive place for companies to come with its lower taxes and larger labor base.
Regulation in the pipeline
EPA regulations are coming down the track requiring cleaner energy. Companies are going to have to find ways to meet their production demands using cleaner technologies.
Oil and gas companies accept the reality that our economy is turning toward more carbon constraint. The traditional oil and gas companies are going to start making investments in clean energy, particularly as we see tax incentives, different policies, or perhaps something like a national clean energy standard calling for a greater use of those. These companies have money to invest in the energy industry and are going to position themselves to play across the full spectrum of resources.
Oil and gas are still boss
There is going to be a continuing demand [for oil and gas] for a number of years. I don’t see [clean technologies] as competing, I see them as offering a layer to the cake in the foundation of our oil and gas tradition and now we are going to improve on that with these cleaner, newer technologies.
It’s not a matter of one part knocking out the other but blending in a way that makes sense from an economic point of view, security point of view and from an environment point of view. It’s an exciting time in the energy industry and things are improving and it’s a matter of phasing in newer technologies in a smart fashion.
HOW TO REACH: Van Ness Feldman, (202) 298-1800 or www.vnf.com
Van Ness Feldman
About: Lisa Epifani is a partner at Van Ness Feldman and advises a range of clients on energy and environmental matters, with a special focus on climate change strategy, oil and natural gas issues, nuclear policy, and financial regulations. Her clients include industry coalitions, financial institutions, oil and gas pipelines and think tanks. Before joining the firm in April 2009, Lisa spent 10 years serving in key governmental and business community roles, developing energy policy and strategy. She was appointed assistant secretary at the department of energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs by then-President George W. Bush.