SURGICAL NURSES HAVE THE ONEROUS TASK OF ENSURING that the dozens of sponges placed in a patient make it back out. Miscounts happen: Approximately 1,500 patients each year “retain” a sponge, according to a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. MOre than embarrassing oversights, lost sponges can cause serious harm, including infection and intestinal obstruction.

To provide backup for manual counting, ClearCount Medical Solutions has embedded radio frequency ID (RFID) tags into sponges and devised a wand to scan patients post-operation. In a study by Stanford University Medical Center researchers, the scanner found RFID sponges in an average of less than three seconds—making for a swift recovery.