Invention Seeks to Prevent Wires from Being Left Inside Patients

Photo: W. Paul Murphy, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, demonstrates the invention on a medical simulation model.

A multidisciplinary team from the VCU School of Engineering and the VCU School of Medicine wants to make it impossible to leave a wire inside the body accidentally during common medical procedures.

The team has designed a novel alarm to improve safety when placing a central venous catheter, a tube that goes into a large vein to give blood or medications. Typically, physicians and other clinicians first insert a wire, then slide the catheter over this “guidewire.” W. Paul Murphy, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology in the VCU School of Medicine, said that the guidewire is accidentally left behind in one of 3,000 procedures.

Inadvertently leaving anything inside a patient during any procedure is a serious but preventable complication, labeled a “never event” by federal insurers. These never events are publicly reported and costly in terms of dollars, patients and reputations.

Murphy is collaborating with Bennett Ward, Ph.D., associate professor at the VCU School of Engineering, and Hilton Bennett, a graduate student at VCU’s da Vinci Center. The project, dubbed “No Wire Left Behind,” was recently awarded research funding to develop the device through VCU’s Quest Commercialization Fund, which is dedicated to advancing VCU inventions and boosting their chances of getting to the market.

Ward said, “VCU Quest funding will enable the team to jump-start the development of a viable product concept that we can take to the medical device market. This project demonstrates the potential of VCU multidisciplinary teams to develop solutions to pressing health care problems.”

Bennett, who graduated from the VCU mechanical engineering program in December, 2016, is currently a student in da Vinci Center’s Master of Product Innovation program. If a wire is left behind, he said,  “It’s a risky situation for the patient.” The patient must undergo an additional procedure to have it removed.

Bennett said that the team’s current design, a clip with lights and a buzzer, attaches to the wire to serve as a constant reminder to the physician or clinician that the wire is inside the patient’s body. Over the summer, Bennett is working on designing the mold for the device and developing prototypes out of different materials.

In addition to improving patient care, Bennett said that preventing this type of problem would help hospitals, which bear the financial liability and cost associated with such serious reportable events.

Murphy said, “The goal of this device is to make things safer for patients and earn the trust of our current and prospective patients.” Murphy said that working with engineers and others outside his field to solve real-world problems has been an exciting experience. “To have folks like Hilton and Ben Ward say, ‘If you do it this way, the problem could be avoided,’” he said, “that’s been a blast.”


The project is one of several being undertaken by a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) team formed in the fall of 2015 to improve critical patient care that is provided by anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists through various engineered solutions. Intended to provide an extended research experience, new undergraduates will join as graduating students move on.