Columbia doctor invents needle that could revolutionize the industry

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A doctor in Columbia has invented a new way to insert a needle into the human body for certain procedures. It sounds pretty basic, but it very well may revolutionize a particular area of medicine. Plus, it's expected to save tens of thousands of lives each year, and save millions of dollars in healthcare expenses.

In his practice in the emergency department at Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital, Dr. Stephen Ridley is always looking for ways to better care for patients. Seven years ago when training other doctors to insert a needle into a deep vein, he was troubled by the inefficient method used, and that so many physicians struggled.

"That was my moment, when I realized there has got to be a simpler, more intuitive way to do it," said Ridley.
There are three typical locations the needle goes for central venous access, often used for really sick patients who need special care. "One would be the neck," he said. "Another would be deep into the chest below the clavicle, and the third would be in the groin."

The current method does not show the exact path the needle needs to take. That results in an increased number of needle sticks, which leads to increased infection and even death.

"Some of the dangers are that you go too far without knowing it and you can cause injury to some of the delicate structures or you can go lateral without knowing it and injure some structures, so there are all kinds of procedural complications associated with this," said Ridley. "We know that these infections in these central lines have an average of an 18 percent mortality. So, decreasing the number of sticks will decrease the infection rate and certainly, decrease morbidity and mortality."

So, quoting Plato that necessity is the mother of invention, Dr. Ridley sat at his computer to design and create a new device. He calls it ExactTrack. "The probe itself has a needle guide, through the probe and a second set of sensors built into the probe," described Ridley. "And this second set of sensors allows us to visualize the needle."

"I would simply advance the needle through this needle guide into, in real time, watch the needle through the skin, through the subcutaneous tissue and right into the vein," Ridley continued. "One poke, first time, every time."

Much of the doctor's success at invention comes from his previous career as an engineer doing defense technology. "We designed urethane foam to coat the hulls of submarines to make them stealthy," said Ridley. "And I love science. I love the process of invention and discovery."

Dr. Ridley's ExactTrack invention is expected to receive FDA approval within a few months, and will most likely will be the standard tool used throughout the world.

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