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Surgical Instrument Magnetisation

Surgical instrument magnetisation can cause many different risks during surgery. It is important to learn to how effectively manage this during surgical procedures and during instrument sterilisation.

Surgical Instrument Magnetisation

What are the risks and benefits of surgical instrument magnetisation?

Instrument magnetisation can provide a great number of benefits to non-invasive surgeries; however, when unplanned it can cause difficulties such as risk to patients and increased pressure on NHS time and resources.

It is important that accidentally magnetised surgical instruments are managed effectively. Not only can magnetisation cause damage to patient’s blood vessels and nerves, but it can also have an influence on post-operative recovery times. Moreover, the time taken to address instrument magnetisation can result in increased operating room time and slow down the sterilisation process. This can put pressure on staff members and cause surgical delays.

Although surgical instrument magnetisation can impact all surgical specialties, it appears to be the most detrimental in minimally-invasive surgical procedures. In microsurgery, instruments are smaller scale therefore minor levels of magnetisation can have a greater impact on surgery. For example, magnetisation in needle-holders can produce sufficient force to move the needle. This can make it harder for the surgeon to control needles and can interfere with their ability to perform the operation.


What causes surgical instrument magnetisation?

Magnetisation is believed to occur most commonly during surgery rather than post-surgery. Generally, the highest risk for surgical instrument magnetisation occurs if the instrument comes into contact with a magnet. Often magnetised mats and counter boxes are used in surgical suites to contain instruments; however, this can cause a greater risk of instrument magnetisation.

Outside of surgery, magnetisation can often occur during the sterilisation process. For example if an instrument becomes magnetised by friction with other surgical instruments. This may occur with the use of metal-handled nylon brushes, or by instruments not being secured properly for processing. This friction between two metals can therefore create an electric current and induce magnetisation.

Lastly, a surgical instrument may become magnetised when in close contact with machinery using high electric currents. Often this may occur when an electric current is passed through forceps or hemostats to seal blood vessels.


What can we do to prevent instrument magnetisation?

  1. Reduce the chances of instruments coming into contact with a magnet. For example, by removing magnetised mats and counter boxes from surgical suites.
  2. Reduce the likelihood of metal instruments rubbing against each other during processing. For example, by avoiding metal-handled nylon brushes, and properly securing instrument trays during sterilisation.
  3. Avoid close instrument proximity to machinery using high electric currents.


How can instruments be demagnetised?

  1. Heat treatment - after heating an instrument to above it’s Curie temperature, rapidly cool it to lock the material into a non-magnetic state. This can help to prevent future magnetisation.
  2. Demagnetisation - exposing a magnetised material to a randomly oscillating magnetic field, the instrument will be neutralised to reduce the magnetic property of the material. This will help to demagnetise the instrument.


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