Pittsburgh's SmartSponge™ reinvents surgical sponge retrieval for safer surgeries everywhere.
Believe it or not, some people come out of the hospital with, well, let's call them souvenirs of their surgeries. Sponges, mainly. With all the equipment, fluid, dressings, blood and often speed involved in repairing a human body on an operating table, occasionally human error leaves something behind. This can lead to pain, infection and likely another surgery to recover the foreign gear. Pennsylvania's ClearCount Medical Solutions exists so that this never happens again.
ClearCount Medical Solutions began in 2004, inspired by a particularly frustrating day in an operating room. Nurse Sharon Morris came home weary of the almost impossible duty of post-surgical sponge accounting. She and her husband Dean, an inventor (and current board member), worked out the kinks of an early sponge detection prototype, filed the patents, then met with two Carnegie Mellon University business-school students who put the group on the path to market. Their hook? A unique RFID technology, or radio frequency identification, built directly into the sponges.
Together, they approached their local economic development resources for advice and initial seed investments, including Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Partner of SWPA (Innovation Works), the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG), and the Idea Foundry—a trio of organizations devoted to technology transfer, funding and commercialization assistance for startups. This backing helped ClearCount work up their proof-of-concept and develop a go-to-market plan. ClearCount began utilizing the domain-specific expertise of a PLSG Executive in Residence to develop an intensive commercialization strategy. With -Innovation Works’ guidance and initial $100,000 investment, the team also applied for an SBIR/NIH grant, enabling an important research benchmark: proof that their RFID technology could read through both bodies and bodily fluid.
At the beginning of any surgery, all materials–particularly these gauze-like sponges–are itemized before a procedure begins, then must be accounted for after they close up. What exists currently in the market are two types of devices: one that accurately detects sponges left in surgical procedures (but doesn't tick off a tally of the quantity accounted for), and another that counts them (but can't tell if there's one or two still left inside). ClearCount's unique standing? It does both, flawlessly. "We're the only company using RFID technology at this point," says David Palmer, ClearCount CEO, to both identify where the stray sponges lie, as well as tell exactly which ones they are. Previously the COO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Palmer was so inspired by ClearCount's grant application that he not only funded the fledgling operation, but later joined them in 2006.
Previously the COO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, Palmer was so inspired by ClearCount’s grant application that he not only worked as part of the PLSG team that advised and funded the fledgling operation, but later joined them in 2006. PLSG’s commitment to ClearCount was and continues to be strong. To date, PLSG has dedicated 151 hours of Executive Program guidance and $487,000 of direct investment into the company. Palmer and PLSG weren’t the only ones to see ClearCount’s potential. Their unique technology, large market potential, and business leadership earned the company additional investments from Innovation Works. In total, IW invested $600,000 to help fuel the company’s growth.
Indeed, the entire ClearCount system is smart, and necessitates proprietary component parts. SmartSponge surgical sponges–same size and shape as the typical OR fare for immediately familiar usage–are permanently affixed with a passive RFID tag smaller than a dime. Because each sponge is uniquely identified, sponge counts can be quickly and easily reconciled. The foolproof display on the SmartBucket™ monitor–something like an ultrasound screen–accurately provides a tally of sponges "in" and sponges "out," after a quick scan of the SmartWand™, providing a critical read in fast-paced trauma events and emergency surgeries of any sponges remaining in the patient. A SmartTag™ under the patient provides the user with notification that a scan is proceeding properly.
As the only system to integrate counting and detection for the purpose of sponge management, the SmartSponge System saves time, prevents unnecessary x-rays, reduces the possibility of user error, minimizes delays in procedures and most importantly, significantly improves patient safety.
The ClearCount system currently aids ORs in fourteen hospitals nationwide, and is counting on the strong interest in the marketplace to grow this number steadily. Despite their two-million-dollar Never Event Warranty™ insurance policy protecting hospitals against any stray sponges while using their detection and accounting system, Palmer is ecstatic to report "no incident of a retained sponge." In other words, an unbelievable one-hundred percent success rate for the SmartSponge System.
The focus for 2011 is an international push and the introduction of SmartSponge technology to overseas hospitals. Recently a finalist in the Pittsburgh Tech Council's Tech 50 and recipient of the Rising Star award, ClearCount promises a healthy technological pipeline of products cued up for the future as well. Now that's a recovery.