More public hospitals in Hong Kong are considering an electronic system that prevents medical tools being left inside a patient after the success of a pilot scheme.
The system, which helps medical staff count the number of surgical instruments at operations, has already been used in more than 20,000 surgical procedures since its launch in 2014. The Hospital Authority said about three more public hospitals were considering using it but few details could be released at this stage.
According to Tseung Kwan O Hospital, there were no cases of medical instruments or materials being left in a patient’s body during its operations.
“This system offers more reminders and has a clearer display of information,” said Tsang Tsz-lun, a nurse from the hospital’s department of anaesthesia and operating theatre services who helped develop the system.
In the first half of this year, 10 blunders involving instruments or materials left in patients’ bodies after operations were recorded in public hospitals, according to the authority.
Compared with the use of a whiteboard or paper-count sheet in the past, Tsang said the electronic system could also reduce confusion over handwritten information.
Under the system, a nurse would input the number of used surgical instruments and materials into an electronic form with a tablet computer. Relevant information, such as the amount of used gauze, suture needle or scalpel blade, would then be displayed instantly on a screen which is visible to all other nurses and doctors inside the operating theatre.
The nurse with the tablet counts the materials used with another nurse in the operating theatre – a procedure which has to be done three times during a surgery.
An alert would pop up if the nurse tried to complete the form but forgot to indicate, for example, whether the doctor had been told the count result of materials. Confirming the completion of a final count is also mandatory.
“If [a nurse] has not stated clearly whether all items have been counted, the form cannot be completed in the system,” Dr Cheng Hung-kai, the department’s chief of service, said.
The screen also shows where materials such as gauzes or pads have been placed inside a patient’s body during operation.
Retention of surgical items in patients’ bodies after operations, which could lead to pain or infection, is one of the medical errors requiring mandatory reporting in both public and private hospitals.