Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/cpsurg
Current Problems in Surgery
0011-3840/& 2015 The Authors Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
☆ Dr. Jones has conflict with Allurion.
Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
How does RF electrosurgery create tissue effects?
An electrosurgical device applies high-frequency alternating current to cells, with the
polarity alternating from positive to negative approximately 500,000 times per second. Cellular
cytoplasm contains electrically charged particles such as electrolytes and proteins. The
alternating polarity causes those ions to rapidly oscillate back and forth, resulting in frictional
forces that increase the cellular temperature. This is used to create a cellular and tissue effect or
a combination of cellular and tissue effects including vaporization (manifested as cutting),
desiccation or coagulation (used to seal tubular structures), and fulguration (used for larger
Understanding the surgical applications of RF electricity requires a basic understanding of the
effects of temperature on cells and tissue (Fig 1).7
The normal body temperature is 371C. Temperature can go into the 401C range, as seen with
fever, without damaging the structural integrity of our cells and tissue. Once cellular
temperature reaches 501C, cell death occurs over a period of approximately 6 minutes. When
the local temperature is 601C and higher, cellular death is instantaneous through the occurrence
of desiccation and coagulation. Desiccation occurs as the cell loses water through the thermally
damaged wall. As water leaks out, the cell starts shrinking and becomes progressively smaller.
Protein denaturation occurs at temperatures as low as 601C as hydrogen cross-links between
proteins rupture. With subsequent cooling, the cross-links reform randomly, ideally creating a
homogenous coagulum. If enough energy is transmitted to rapidly raise the temperature to
1001C, intracellular water turns to steam, with massive expansion of intracellular volume.
The result is cellular vaporization as the cell explodes in a cloud of steam, ions, and organic
matter. When temperatures are more than 2001C, organic molecules are broken down, leaving
carbon molecules that create a brown or black appearance.
The use of proper terminology reinforces principles that support safe use of energy devices.
The term “cautery” is often used to refer to monopolar electrosurgical devices. However, cautery
denotes a passive transfer of heat, that is, heating of an instrument, which then heats the tissue.
A branding iron is an example of a cautery. But with electrosurgical devices, it is the RF energy
that causes the temperature rise in cells and tissues, without any passive heat transfer. So
electrosurgery is not cautery!
Fig. 1. Effect of temperature on cells and tissue. Normal temperature is 371C. Once cellular temperature reaches 501C,
cell death occurs over a period of approximately 6 minutes. When the local temperature is 601C and higher, cellular
death is instantaneous through the occurrence of desiccation and coagulation. If enough energy is transmitted to rapidly
increase the temperature to 1001C, intracellular water turns to steam, and cell vaporization occurs. (Adapted with
permission from Munro.6) (Color version of figure is available online.)
448 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
The ESU performs 3 functions.7 First, it converts the low-frequency alternating current from
the wall from 60 Hz to a very high frequency, approximately 500,000 Hz. This is called
“radiofrequency” because the frequency is similar to that of amplitude-modulated radio waves.
Although 60 Hz is a frequency that depolarizes muscle and nerve cells, at frequencies more than
100,000 cycles per second muscles and nerves essentially function normally. Furthermore, these
frequencies affect the cells and tissue in a dramatically effective fashion. The second function of
the ESU is to enable adjustment of the voltage of the output through adjusting the power setting.
Recall that power (W) ¼ voltage ” current. If we increase or decrease the power setting on the
ESU, the voltage is increased or decreased to maintain this relationship. The third function of the
ESU is control of the “duty cycle.” The term duty cycle is used to describe the proportion of time
over which ESU produces a waveform. Generators produce different waveforms that, in part,
allow the surgeon to change the effect of the RF electricity on the tissue. Waveforms can be
depicted on an oscilloscope. Most North America#made ESUs have 2 outputs labeled “cut” and
“coag.” However, these terms do not accurately reflect the appropriate use of the energy and this
labeling has added to confusion regarding the properties of the different waveforms. “Cut” is not
used just for cutting and “coag” is not used just for coagulating.
These concepts are best illustrated with an example (Fig 2). If we start with a setting of pure
“cut,” at a power setting of 30W, and view the ESU output on an oscilloscope, we would see a
continuous, relatively low-voltage waveform, with a sine wave shape. If we then increase the
power setting to 100W, we still have a continuous output but at a higher voltage. If we switch to
the “coag” setting, without the power setting remaining at 30W, the oscilloscope would show a
waveform that is only intermittently produced, with the current “on” only approximately 6% of
the time (a 6% duty cycle). This very short duty cycle is associated with a much higher voltage
than that of the same power setting used on “cut” mode because if the current is reduced,
the voltage must increase to maintain the wattage (power ¼ voltage ” current). The relatively
high voltage of the “coag” setting has important implications for the safety and effectiveness of
electrosurgery, including the potential for interference with a pacemaker, the risk of capacitance
or antennae coupling, and the quality of the vessel seal created.
A third setting is “blend.” Although many surgeons think blend is a combination of cut and
coag, in fact it is a modulated form of the cut output (Fig 3). Compared to pure cut, the blend
setting uses an interrupted current, resulting in higher voltage compared with pure cut at the
same power setting.
Fig. 2. Examples of “cut” and “coag” waveforms as would be seen on an oscilloscope. (A) When the ESU is set to pure
“cut” at a power setting of 30W, there is a low-voltage, continuous output with a sine wave shape. The term “cut” is
misleading as it gives the false impression that this waveform is designed to cut tissue. (B) At the “coag” setting at the
same power, we see a high-voltage, intermittently produced waveform (typically only 6%). (Adapted with permission
from Munro.6 (Color version of figure is available online.)
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 449
Monopolar and bipolar devices
There are always 2 electrodes involved with electrosurgery. What differentiates monopolar
and bipolar instrument setups is the function of the second electrode. With a monopolar device
(eg, “bovie” pencil, laparoscopic hook, and endoscopic snare) an active electrode with a small
surface area is used by the surgeon to concentrate the current and create the desired tissue
effects, whereas a second large electrode is placed remotely on the patients and used to disperse
the current to prevent changes in tissue temperature at that site (Fig 4). The entire patient is in
the circuit, which creates the opportunity for current diversion to other parts of the patient.
With bipolar systems, both electrodes are in the same device and are generally small enough
to be “active.” Again, both electrodes are attached to the generator. Only the very small amount
of the tissue between the electrodes or immediately adjacent to them is included in the circuit,
which essentially eliminates the risk of current diversion inherent with monopolar systems.
But monopolar devices are extremely versatile, as tissue cutting, sealing, and fulguration are all
A common misnomer is the term “grounding pad.” This suggests that this pad is connected to
the ground and the circuit is completed through the ground. This type of system increases the
risk of current diversion and has not been sold for OR use in North America for decades.
In contrast, modern electrosurgical units create isolated circuits, where both electrodes are
attached to the generator. In a monopolar system, there is 1 electrode with a small surface area
in the surgical field to concentrate current and create tissue effects and 1 with a large surface
area electrode attached to the patient to disperse the current over a large area. As groundreferenced
generators are no longer used, a better term for this second electrode that describes
its purpose is “dispersive electrode.”
Fig. 3. “Blended” currents are NOT a combination of coag and cut. In fact, it is a modulated form of the “cut” waveform.
The duty cycle refers to the proportion of time the ESU produces current. On the top image, with the power set to 30W,
there is output 50% of the time, whereas in the lower image, there is output 83% of the time. To preserve the power
equation (P ¼ V ” I), with the increase in current seen with the higher duty cycle, there is a concomitant decrease in
voltage. (Adapted with permission from Munro.6) (Color version of figure is available online.)
450 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
From principles to practice
There is a science and an art to electrosurgery. Understanding that electrosurgery is about the
control of current density, defined as the amount of current per unit area of the electrode in
contact with or near the tissue, allows the user to increase safety and versatility. Current density
is determined by the shape and size of the electrode as well as the power settings and output of
the generator. The size of the electrode is very important because thermal change (ΔT) is
proportional to current density squared (ΔTα current2/area2). As area ¼ πr2, a small change in
radius results in a large difference in the thermal effect. Conceptually, reducing the radius by half
would result in a 16-fold increase in the thermal effect. Surgeons recognize this effect from using
the “bovie” pencil. High current density concentrated at the tip or edge of the blade vaporizes
the tissue, whereas turning the device to use the flat edge of the blade at the same power setting
results in slightly lower current density that would cause desiccation and coagulation. The same
current spread over a much larger area may have no effect on the cells at all, which is the
situation created by the size of the dispersive electrode. Hence, when the tissue effect is not
what is desired, instead of first increasing the power, with the associated increased risks of
thermal spread or current diversion, maximize concentration of current by decreasing the area
of the electrode surface.
Thermal change also increases proportionally with tissue resistance. Resistance can be
increased by removing conductive fluid (eg, blood), compressing vessels, or putting the tissue on
stretch. Finally, thermal change increases in a linear fashion with the time of application.
Surgeons who understand how to manipulate electrode area and tissue tension would be able to
achieve excellent hemostasis and tissue transection at very low power settings (ie, 20 W).
In addition to the power setting and waveform, whether the electrode is in contact with the
tissue also influences the surgical effect achieved. Tissue cutting occurs through linear
vaporization, accomplished by advancing a narrow tipped electrode without direct tissue
contact, using a continuous, low-voltage waveform (“pure cut”). The high current density results
Fig. 4. Monoplar and bipolar instrumentation. There are always 2 electrodes involved with electrosurgery. What
differentiates monopolar and bipolar instrument setups is the function of the second electrode. With a monopolar
device (eg, “bovie” pencil, laparoscopic hook, and endoscopic snare) an active electrode with a small surface area is used
by the surgeon to concentrate the current and create the desired tissue effects, whereas a second large electrode is
placed remotely on the patient and used to disperse the current to prevent changes in tissue temperature at that site.
With monopolar systems, the whole patient is in the circuit, which creates the opportunity for current diversion. With
bipolar systems, both electrodes are in the same device and are generally small enough to be “active.” Again, both
electrodes are attached to the generator. Only the very small amount of the tissue between the electrodes or
immediately adjacent to them is included in the circuit, which essentially eliminates the risk of current diversion
inherent with monopolar systems. (Adapted with permission from Munro.6) (Color version of figure is available online.)
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 451
in a very rapid rise in intracellular temperature to more than 1001C and cell vaporization with
little collateral thermal damage. Effective coagulation resulting in vessel sealing requires contact
with the tissue, squeezing the vessel walls together with a forceps or against adjacent tissue. The
power density must be high enough to result in instantaneous coagulation and desiccation
(ie, temperatures of 601C-951C), without resulting in vaporization. Compressing the vessel also
prevents blood flowing through to decrease the temperature. Although any waveform setting
can achieve this result, it may be surprising to many surgeons that the “cut” or “blend”
waveforms achieve higher quality vessel seals than that of the “coag” setting, and at lower
voltage. The low duty cycle (6% “on”), high-voltage coag waveform causes brief episodes of
temperature elevation, resulting in superficial coagulation, desiccation, and carbonization. This
superficial zone has high tissue impedance and blocks subsequent current bursts from
penetrating the deeper tissue. The area of carbonization also results in the electrode sticking
to tissue, pulling off the eschar, and disrupting the seal. Tissue fulguration is achieved with the
coag setting, allowing for high-voltage current bursts to achieve superficial coagulation,
desiccation, and carbonization, with the resulting high tissue impedance precluding deeper
current penetration. The electrode is held a few millimeters away from the tissue, and the highvoltage
current is arced to the tissue. Fulguration is used to control oozing over a larger surface
area such as the liver surface. This is also used with devices such as the argon beam coagulator,
with argon as a medium between the electrode and tissue to facilitate current arcing.
Although electrical experts may find the above simplifications lacking precision, the goal is
for the concepts to be used to avoid situations that increase the risk of injury. Understanding
how RF electrosurgery works, reenforcing knowledge through correct terminology, understanding
the differences in waveform duty cycle and voltage, and applying these concepts
clinically may help increase the effective use of monopolar devices, while reducing harms like
current diversion and electrical interference with implanted devices.
Reproducible patterns of surgical energy-based device complications
Surgical energy is used in nearly every operation. Although injuries from energy-based
devices are uncommon, they typically lead to catastrophic and sometimes fatal complications.
Despite the nearly ubiquitous usage of energy in the modern OR, surgeons have a poor
understanding of the patterns by which these devices cause complications. Here, we describe
several of the mechanisms by which common surgical energy-based devices cause complications
in a clinically relevant context.
Surgical energy is essential in the modern OR, yet the basic principles, applications, and
patterns of complications remain poorly understood.4 Increasing public awareness following the
death of Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha in 2010, likely secondary to an electrosurgical
injury,9 as well as articles in the lay press 10 has prompted a renewed interest in both research
and education in the safe use of surgical energy-based devices. Complications from surgical
energy-based devices occur in reproducible patterns. If surgeons can recognize the patterns by
which these complications occur, they can modify how energy-based instruments are used in
their OR with the goal of avoiding high-risk scenarios for surgical energy-based device#related
Patterns of energy-based device complications
A total of 6 dominant patterns of surgical energy-based device complications are described
(Table 1). The patterns are listed in order of the most clinically relevant to the least clinically
relevant. For each complication pattern, the discussion includes1 the definition of the
mechanism of injury,2 a clinical example of OR scenario highlighting the complication pattern,
and3 practical steps that a surgeon can take to minimize or eliminate the risk of this
452 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
Direct application injury results from unintended thermal injury to tissue adjacent to the tip
of the activated energy-based device. In other words, thermal heat spreads beyond the tissue
that the surgeon intends to dissect with the energy device (Fig 5).
If vulnerable tissue is too close to the active instruments’ tip, this nearby tissue faces increase
in temperature and potentially burns. The clinical consequence of this thermal injury depends
on the type of tissue burned. Thermal injury to bowel leading to perforation or an adjacent blood
vessel leading to hemorrhage can have devastating clinical consequences. In a review of more
than 3000 energy-based device complications, the direct application injury pattern was the
most common of all types of energy-based device complications observed.11
The distance that thermal heat travels from the activated devices tip is called thermal spread.
Thermal spread varies based on how high the energy devices’ temperature reaches, the amount
of time the device is activated, the thermal mass of the device, and the thermal conductivity of
the tissue. Thermal spread is found to be histologically up to 5 mm from an advanced bipolar
instrument and up to 4 mm from an ultrasonic device.12,13
A tissue sealing device divides the mesentery adjacent to the small bowel. While dissecting
adjacent to the bowel there is blanching of the bowel wall but no perforation or injury of the
serosa is identified intraoperatively. The patient recovers uneventfully until the third
postoperative day, when abdominal sepsis occurs due to bowel perforation.
First, avoid close proximity of the activated energy device on tissue immediately adjacent to
vulnerable tissue such as bowel, ureter, and blood vessels. This prevents injury from thermal
spread to tissue that might result in perforation or hemorrhage. Second, if the surgeon activates
an energy device in close proximity to vulnerable tissue, a shorter activation dwell time results
Fig. 5. Direct application. The distance of thermal injury from the instrument tip following an activation represents
direct application. In this graphic, the orange area adjacent to the device’s jaw represents the distance of thermal spread
resulting from energy application. Direct application has been recognized as the most common energy-based device
complication pattern. (Adapted with permission from Thomas N. Robinson.) (Color version of figure is available online.)
The 6 most common patterns of surgical energy-based device complications.
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 453
in less thermal spread. Third, securing hemostasis adjacent to vulnerable tissue is more
appropriately achieved with sutures, clips, or staples rather than a surgical energy-based device.
Insulation failure is a defect in the insulating material that covers the laparoscopic
instrument’s shaft or the active electrode’s cord14,15 (Fig 6). Breaks in insulation occur on
13%-39% of laparoscopic instruments.14,16-18 Breaks in insulation are found most commonly at
the tip of the instrument14 and occur more commonly in robotic compared with laparoscopic
While using the monopolar “bovie” instrument to dissect the gallbladder off the gallbladder
fossa, inadvertent energy arcs from a break in the insulation along the shaft of the instrument
flowed to nearby bowel. This electrosurgical burn happens outside the view of the camera and is
therefore not recognized by the surgeon at the time of the operation. What results is a fullthickness
bowel burn. The patient is discharged home following the ambulatory laparoscopic
cholecystectomy procedure. The patient presents with abdominal sepsis and shock on the
second or third postoperative day due to perforation of the transverse colon.10 Additional
insulation failure injuries have been reported from robotic instruments19 and from defects along
an electrosurgical instrument’s cord on the surgical field.20
First, a surgical team member can inspect the laparoscopic instruments before the operation
for any defects in insulation, with particular attention to the active electrode. Second, porosity
detectors (a device that is passed over the insulation of the laparoscopic instrument and alarms
when an insulation defect is present) can be used in sterile processing before instrument
sterilization to detect insulation failure. Third, laparoscopic ports should be placed so that the
shafts of instruments do not lie adjacent to vulnerable tissue such as the bowel. By avoiding the
shaft of an instrument contacting bowel, energy would not be able to escape through an
insulation defect along the shaft of the instrument and burn the bowel tissue.
Antenna coupling occurs when an electrically active wire transfers energy without direct
contact to nearby conductive material.21 In the OR, the transmitting antenna is the active
electrode’s cord that emits energy into air through the cord layer of insulation.22,23 The receiving
antenna is any conductive material in close proximity to the active electrode cord. Factors that
promote increased energy transfer are parallel orientation, increased length of parallel wires,
and closer proximity of parallel wires.21-23 The clinical relevance of antenna coupling is that
stray energy transfer to the electrically inactive receiving antenna can result in thermal injury to
tissue in contact with receiving antenna.
A recent randomized clinical trial tested the hypothesis of antenna coupling in the OR.24 The
hypothesis tested was whether unbundling (complete separation) the active electrode and
camera cords would reduce stray energy in comparison with bundling (parallel orientation) the
Fig. 6. Insulation failure. Insulation failure is the break of the insulation material along the shaft of an instrument. In this
graphic, a laparoscopic L-hook active electrode is depicted with a defect in its insulation. This defect allows stray energy
transfer to burn unintended tissue. Of 5 laparoscopic instruments, 1 has been shown to have 1 or more insulation
defects. (Adapted with permission from Thomas N. Robinson.) (Color version of figure is available online.)
454 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
active electrode and camera cords. This clinical trial found decreased stray energy with
separation of the active electrode and camera cords, thus confirming antenna coupling as a
clinically relevant pathway for stray energy transfer.
The monopolar’s active electrode cord is oriented parallel and in close proximity to the
laparoscopic camera cord as they are draped off of the sterile field in an integrated OR.
The laparoscopic telescope tip inadvertently comes into contact with small intestine while the
active electrode is activated. Stray energy arcs from the telescope and burns the bowel outside
the camera’s surgical view. The burn to the small intestine results in abdominal pain and septic
shock on the second postoperative day due to small bowel perforation.
Antenna coupling injuries have been reported owing to multiple types of patient-monitoring
devices that have wires extending off the surgical field. Examples include burns from nervemonitoring
electrodes,25 electrocardiogram (EKG) leads,26 esophageal temperature probes,27
and doppler monitoring devices.28
First, avoid parallel orientation and close proximity of the high-voltage monopolar active
electrode wire with other conductive materials. The most common OR scenario that predisposes
to antenna coupling is the parallel orientation of the active electrode cord to the camera cord.
This scenario can be avoided simply by placing the monopolar generator on the opposite side of
the OR table from the laparoscopic camera box so that the wires are completely separated.
Second, recognize that energy complications can occur off the surgery field due to inadvertent
energy transfer from high-voltage wires. Thus, antenna coupling requires a paradigm shift in
surgical thinking regarding energy-based device complications. All other complication patterns
occur on the surgical field; in contrast, the mechanism resulting in stray energy transfer occurs
with the wires that are draped off the surgical field.
Residual heat is defined as the increased temperature that remains at the tip of the energy
device after energy activation is completed.29 The elevated instrument temperature is unique to
each type of energy-based device but can cause injury when the tip inadvertently touches tissue
before the dissipation of heat. Residual heat is clinically most relevant with ultrasonic devices,
which have been found to increase by more than 2001C from baseline.30 Ultrasonic devices heat
tissue put in contact to the active blade by more than 101C even after a 20-second period of rest
following the last activation, a temperature that is higher in comparison with monopolar or
advanced biopolar instruments.29
An injury from residual heat is described in the literature.31 During a laparoscopic right
colectomy, an ultrasonic device is used to mobilize the right colon off the duodenal sweep.
The active blade of the ultrasonic instrument touches the duodenal sweep several seconds after
activation is complete, leaving a white mark on the serosa of the duodenum. On the second
postoperative day, the patient developed abdominal pain and bile leak through a drain placed
adjacent to the duodenum. On reexploration, the patient is found to have a duodenal fistula.
Review of the video of the operation found that the ultrasonic device had burned the duodenal
sweep after activation had been completed, which burned the duodenal wall and resulted in the
First, avoid touching additional tissue immediately after the activation of any energy-based
device. Pay particular attention with ultrasonic devices to allow prolonged deactivated rest
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 455
times before touching additional tissue. Second, if an energy-based device comes into contact
with vulnerable tissue immediately after activation, inspect the tissue for white blanching color.
If this blanching is seen, immediate corrective action of oversewing with sutures should be
considered to avoid delayed perforation.
Direct coupling is when the active electrode comes into contact with another noninsulated
instrument.15,32 This scenario causes the energy to transfer from the active electrode to the
noninsulated instrument. This energy then travels along the shaft of the noninsulated
instrument. If this noninsulated instrument happens to be in contact with vulnerable tissue
along its shaft, thermal injury to the tissue can result. Noninsulated instruments commonly used
in laparoscopic sets include the suction irrigator, the 10-mm all-metal stone forceps, and the
A monopolar “bovie” L-hook instrument is activated in the pelvis while unintentionally
touching an atraumatic forceps that is retracting the ureter during a low anterior resection.
Energy transfers from the L-hook to the ureter, resulting in a thermal burn to the ureter.
Another example of direct coupling can be intentional and clinically useful. If a small bleeder
along the gallbladder wall is grasped with Maryland forceps, the monopolar instrument can be
activated while touching the conductive (metal) material of the Maryland forceps to achieve
hemostasis. The surgeon must recognize in this scenario that purposefully causing thermal effect
for hemostasis could result in thermal burn to additional nearby tissue as well.
First, avoid contact of the monopolar active electrode with other conductive instruments or
materials while energy is being delivered to the active electrode. Second, avoid close proximity
of the monopolar active electrode to instruments that do not have insulation along their shaft
(eg, suction irrigator device or 10-mm stone forceps without insulation). Inadvertent contact of
the active electrode to these noninsulated instruments burns any tissue that lies along the shaft
of this instrument. Third, ensure that port placement does not allow the shafts of instruments to
touch vulnerable tissue such as the bowel. Low port placement along the abdominal wall in
conjunction with steep angling of the table puts laparoscopic instrument shafts at high risk for
touching the bowel, a scenario that should be avoided.
Capacitive coupling is defined as the current transferred from the active electrode, through
intact insulation, into adjacent conductive material without direct contact.15,33 Capacitive
coupling is difficult to intuitively grasp without understanding what the 2 conductors in the
definition are (Fig 7).
Fig. 7. Capacitive coupling. Capacitive coupling is defined as 2 conductors surrounded by intact insulation. In the
operating room, the first conductor is the metal material, which intentionally leads current down the laparoscopic
instrument’s shaft and is surrounded by intact insulation. The second conductor is the patient’s tissue. In this graphic, a
segment of bowel is the second conductor, which can be burned by energy transmitted via capacitive coupling. (Adapted
with permission from Thomas N. Robinson.) (Color version of figure is available online.)
456 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
The first conductor is the metal wire that travels down the center of the laparoscopic active
electrode. This is the conductive material that intentionally facilitates the flow of energy down
the active electrode and is surrounded by insulation. The second conductor in the capacitive
coupling definition is the patient’s tissue. Energy is transferred from the active electrode, across
the intact insulation, and heats up the tissue that is adjacent to the shaft of the active electrode.
Unintentionally heating up tissue next to the active electrode can result in thermal injury to the
tissue, resulting in injury. Capacitive coupling occurs almost exclusively with the monopolar
instruments due to the high voltage (roughly 9000 V when used on 30W coagulation mode).
While performing a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the monopolar “bovie” instrument is
turned up to 60 W coagulation mode and activated for a prolonged time to achieve hemostasis
in the gallbladder fossa. The shaft of the active electrode touches the transverse colon outside
the camera’s view. On the third postoperative day, after discharge home, the patient develops
abdominal pain and septic shock due to a perforation in the transverse colon. A clinical case such
as this was reported in the New York Times in 2006.10
Factors that minimize capacitive coupling include generator settings and surgical technique.33
First, capacitive coupling is minimized by lowering the voltage delivered to the monopolar
instrument (Table 2). Second, avoid the use of combined (or “hybrid”) metal and plastic
laparoscopic trocars when using the monopolar “bovie” instrument. Third, Use of alternative
energy-based surgical devices instead of the monopolar instrument such as traditional bipolar,
ultrasonic instruments, and advanced bipolar devices.
Other energy-based device injury patterns
Inadvertent activation injury is unintentional activation of the energy-based device that
results in patient injury. An example of this complication is the surgeon who leans on the sterile
drape and accidently presses the coagulation button on the monopolar pencil, which burns the
patient’s skin. Practical steps to minimize inadvertent activation injuries include using a “bovie”
pencil holder, avoiding placing of energy-based devices on the drapes adjacent to where the
surgical team might lean on the device, and having instrument activation tones loud enough to
be heard by the surgical team to alert them to the unintended activation.
Interaction with electronic devices
RF energy devices emit electromagnetic interference (EMI), which interrupts the function of
nearby electronic devices.34,35 Disruption of electronic devices such as cardiac implantable
electronic devices (CIEDs) (eg, a pacemaker) can lead to hemodynamic instability and even be
life threatening. A clinical example is when a surgeon uses the monopolar instrument set on
30W coagulation mode to create an upper midline incision in a pacemaker-dependent patient.
On activation of the active electrode, the pacemaker function is interrupted, causing a heart
Surgeon-controlled factors that minimize the risk of capacitive coupling injuries.33
Power setting The lowest power setting to achieve clinical effect should be used in preference to higher generator
Use modes with longer duty cycles (cut and blend mode reduces risk in comparison with
Dwell time Shorter active electrode activation times minimize risk in comparison with longer activation times
Desiccation technique (active electrode touching tissue) should be used in preference to fulguration
technique (energy crosses the short gap between active electrode and tissue) or open-air activation
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 457
block that results in hemodynamic instability. To minimize the effect of EMI, the surgeon can
decrease generator power setting, use cut mode in preference to coagulation mode, employ the
desiccation technique rather than the fulguration technique, orient the active electrode cord
from the patient’s feet to avoid proximity of the active electrode cord to the electronic device,
avoid the current vector crossing between the active electrode tip and the dispersive electrode
from crossing the cardiac device, and increase the distance between the active electrode and the
cardiac device.36,37 Other recommendations include using alternate energy-based devices such
as ultrasonic and advanced bipolar instruments in preference to monopolar instruments.
Advanced energy devices
There are 2 primary types of energy used in surgery today: electromagnetic and mechanical.
Electromagnetic radiation or RF energy can be applied in monopolar fashion with the “bovie”
pencil or attached to laparoscopic instruments and is discussed in previous sections. RF energy
can be used also in a bipolar fashion with basic tissue forceps or by “advanced” bipolar devices
that actively measure tissue characteristics during activation to maximize the tissue effect
Another type of advanced device uses ultrasonic vibrations to create mechanical and thermal
energy, which seals and cuts tissue. This is in contrast to advanced bipolar instruments that pass
energy through the tissue to create a seal but require an additional mechanism or knife to cut
the tissue. The last type of advanced device also does not pass energy through the tissue and
instead creates tissue fusion through heat and compression. This device also requires an
additional cutting mechanism (Table 3).
These “advanced” devices were designed to improve effective hemostasis and reduce OR time
and complications. However, different techniques of use and numerous confounders can affect
these outcome variables and has led most authors to compare instruments via surrogate end
points: vessel burst pressure, seal time, lateral thermal spread, and visibility reduction (smoke
plume). We compare and contrast the commonly available advanced energy devices to generate
overall, evidence-based guidelines.
Advanced bipolar devices
In essence, all RF energy devices are “bipolar,” in that energy must pass from the instrument
tip, through the tissue, and return to the generator. Bipolar devices are those that contain both
the “poles” in the tip of the instrument, thereby focusing the energy delivered only into the
tissue between the jaws. This reduces the energy required and allows for electronic monitoring
of tissue characteristics. Every manufacturer has a slightly different monitoring system.
Specifically, the LigaSure (Medtronic, Minneapolis, MN) measures tissue impedance, EnSeal
(Ethicon, Cincinnati, OH) actively measures sealing temperature to maintain 1001C, and the
Gyrus PlasmaKinetic System PKS (Gyrus Medical, Cardiff, UK) delivers pulsed energy, allowing
for tissue cooling, which theoretically improves contact and seal. These active feedback
Types of energy used in the operating room.
Electromagnetic Mechanical Heat transfer (cautery)
Ultrasonic Advanced heating and cooling systems
458 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
mechanisms have resulted in United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for
these devices to seal vessels up to 7 mm in diameter.38
The key advantages of advanced bipolar energy are that it does not require a dispersive
electrode (energy does not travel through the patient), less voltage is used (cut wave form),
energy stays between the jaws, and up to 7 mm vessels can be sealed. With every surgical
energy device, the thermal spread profile must be monitored carefully. Advanced bipolar devices
typically have a 1-3 mm thermal spread pattern. Current leakage through the instrument cord is
possible and should also be monitored.
Ultrasound-based devices are unique in that no energy traverses the tissue between its jaws.
Instead, coagulation and cutting is effected by ultrasonic vibrations at frequencies from
23-55 kHz, creating thermal energy from tissue friction. Completion of tissue sealing is
subjective for most ultrasonic devices and relies on visual and tactile cues and tissue tension.
Ultrasonic devices have United States FDA approval to seal vessels up to 5 mm in diameter.
The main advantage of ultrasonic devices is the speed of dissection that can be accomplished.
With every surgical energy device, the thermal spread profile must be monitored carefully. Ultrasonic
devices typically have a 1-3 mm thermal spread pattern. A clear disadvantage is that the ultrasonic
vibrating tip gets very hot. Temperatures can reach as high as 3001C during activation. Tissue death
usually occurs at 601C, so extreme caution should be undertaken while these devices are used. The
surgeon should allow time for the ultrasonic tip to cool down before handling any tissue.
Advanced thermal or cautery devices
Advanced thermal and cautery devices seal vessels using compression, heat, and time.
The main advantages are that it does not require a dispersive electrode (energy does not travel
through the patient), no capacitive coupling is seen, the thermal spread pattern is 1-2 mm,
it does not depolarize muscle tissue as no electromagnetic current goes through the body, and it
can be used in patients with automatic implanted cardioverter-defibrillator AICDs or
pacemakers. The main disadvantages are that intentional direct coupling is not possible,
current leakage through the cord is seen, and it is not possible to cut tissue on your finger as
compared to a monopolar pencil. Advanced thermal and cautery devices actively measure tissue
temperature to ensure vessel sealing, rapidly heat and cool the end effector tip, and have been
approved for vessels up to 7 mm in diameter.39,40
Newcomb and colleagues compared multiple advanced bipolar devices (LigaSure, EnSeal, and
Gyrus PKS) to an ultrasonic device, the Harmonic Scalpel (Ethicon, Cincinnati, OH), and
laparoscopic clips on porcine arteries. Overall, mean burst pressures decreased with increasing
vessel diameter and for small (2-3 mm) and large (6-7 mm) diameter vessels there was no
statistical difference between burst pressures. For intermediate vessels (4-5 mm), the LigaSure
device produced higher mean burst pressures (1261 mmHg) than those of the other devices
(range: 295-928).41 The smallest vessels, 2-3 mm in size, required between 600 and 1000 mmHg
of pressure to rupture and there were no differences between the devices. In addition, for large
vessels (6-7 mm), between 200 and 700 mmHg of pressure was required to rupture the vessel.
There were no statistically significant differences between devices studied.
The active feedback provides clinicians with consistent coagulation of vessels. Measurement
of mean burst pressures in sealed vessels is consistently supraphysiological, ranging from
200-600 mmHg for vessels 6-7 mm in diameter to 600-1000 mmHg for vessels 2–3mmin size.42
Choosing the right tool for the right job requires understanding how RF electrosurgery works
(Table 4). Increasing understanding of how these devices work contributes to safer OR
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 459
conditions by enabling clinicians to make intelligent choices about the devices and power
settings, and how they use these devices with other equipment. Evidence-based practices with
energy devices in the OR help reinforce safe and effective use. Everyone who works in the OR
has the responsibility to understand the key principles of RF electrosurgery so we can reduce the
risk injury to our patients.
Preventing and responding to OR fires
The occurrence of a fire in the OR during surgery is a rare but potentially devastating event.
The ECRI has estimated that between 200 and 240 fires occur in the ORs in the U.S. annually.
These data are derived from an analysis in the state of Pennsylvania in which the incidence of OR
fires between 2004 and 2011 ranged between 0.32 and 0.67 per 100,000 cases.43 This number is
not dissimilar to the number of wrong-site surgery cases that occur each year. Up to one-third of
OR fires result in harm to the patient, and 20-30 of these events result in serious injuries that are
disfiguring or disabling or even lead to death. The following case is 1 example of how an OR fire
A 65-year-old man was undergoing excision of an epidermal inclusion cyst of the forehead
under local anesthesia with sedation. The patient was prepared with an alcohol-based
preparation and administered oxygen by nasal cannula. He was draped with cloth towels and
then a full drape. An elliptical incision was made around the cyst and the incision was deepened
using an electrosurgical bovie pencil. As the incision extended to the inferior aspect of the
wound, a spark was observed in the field with a flash beneath the drapes. This was immediately
smothered and the drapes were pulled off. The patient was burned across the checks and nasal
bridge with superficial second-degree burns that required further care in a burn unit.
OR fires have been the subject of a sentinel event alert by the Joint Commission.44 It is also 1
of the 11 priority safety topics identified by the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses
(AORN) Presidential Commission on Patient Safety45 and is a top priority for the FDA.46 The FDA
has a national fire protection week annually to highlight awareness about this problem.
Prevention of OR fires requires first an understanding of the elements that are required for a
fire to form. The “fire triangle” consists of 3 key elements (Fig 8): (1) an ignition or heat source
(electrosurgical unit and lasers); (2) fuel, which in the OR environment consists of the surgical
drapes and alcohol-based preparations; and (3) an oxidizer such as oxygen or nitrous oxide.
As no single member of the OR team is responsible for all of these variables, prevention requires
coordination by the various members of the team.
Approximately 21% of OR fires occur in the airway and an additional 44% in the head, neck,
face, or upper chest.47 The electrosurgical equipment is the most common source of ignition,
accounting for approximately 70% of cases and approximately 10% are due to lasers. The
remainder is from various other equipment including fiber-optic light sources.
The ECRI Institute, an independent nonprofit health services research agency with a focus on
patient safety, has developed a 1-page outline of how OR fires can be prevented titled “Only You
Can Prevent Surgical Fires: Surgical Team Communication is Essential.”48 One of the greatest
Comparison of instrument types.
Monopolar Advanced bipolar Ultrasonic Advanced cautery
Thermal spread 1-3 mm 1-3 mm 1-3 mm 1-2 mm
Direct coupling Yes No No No
Capacitive coupling Yes No No No
Alternate-site injury Yes No No No
Inadvertent activation Yes Yes Yes Yes
Direct thermal extension Yes No No No
Current leakage through cord Yes Yes No Yes
460 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
risks for an OR fire is the use of an open oxygen source (ie, oxygen delivery via a mask or nasal
cannula, particularly for head and neck procedures). If an open O2 source is used for a head and
neck procedure, the oxygen concentration should be less than 30%. For tracheostomy
procedures, one should always use cold instruments and not an electrosurgical device to cut
the tracheal rings and enter the airway because of the risk of an airway fire.
Alcohol-based preparations should always be allowed to dry before draping and any areas of
pooling should be blotted dry. It is important to note that alcohol-based fires have a blue flame
and can be hard to see until extensive damage is done. Another fire hazard is the fiber-optic light
source that is used for laparoscopic and many endoscopic procedures. Precautions include
making certain that the light source is on standby before the unit is turned on and connected to
the laparoscope. It is also essential that the light source be turned off before it is disconnected
from the laparoscope at the end of the procedure. The end of the fiber-optic cable gets extremely
hot and a drape can begin to burn within 3-4 seconds of coming in contact with an activated
light source. A facial burn that occurred owing to failure to take these precautions is shown in
Other electrosurgical safety precautions one should take include activating the electrosurgical
unit only when the tip is in view and deactivating it before it leaves the surgical site.
The electrosurgical bovie pencil or laparoscopic device should be put in the holster when not in
Fig. 9. Photograph of iatrogenic facial burn. (Adapted with permission from Brunt.8) (Color version of figure is available
Fig. 8. Fire triangle. Three elements that cause a fire include ignition source, oxidizer, and fuel source. (Adapted with
permission from Brunt.8) (Color version of figure is available online.)
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 461
use and one should never use rubber sleeves over electrosurgical electrodes because of the
tendency to melt and cause flame flare-ups, especially in an O2-rich environment.
Some groups have implemented OR fire risk assessment checklists at the beginning of
procedures. The combination of surgery being done above the level of the xiphoid, open oxygen
delivery, and an available ignition source should enhance awareness for the risk of an OR fire and
should be integrated into the team discussions.
If an OR fire does occur, several immediate steps should be taken.49 First, the flow of all
airway gases to the patient should be stopped by disconnecting the breathing circuit. For airway
fires, the breathing circuit should be disconnected from the endotracheal tube first, and then the
tube should be removed. If the breathing circuit is not disconnected first, the endotracheal tube
can act as a blow torch because of the presence of oxygen flowing through it. Second, all burning
and burned materials should be removed immediately from the patient whether on or in the
patient. Next, the fire should be extinguished on burning materials. In some case it may be
necessary to use a CO2 fire extinguisher which should be present in every OR. Finally, the patient
should be cared for. This means restoration of breathing using room air and never oxygen and
managing any patient injuries. It is important to note that if burned materials are not removed
from the patient, the heat from them can continue to cause injury even after the fire is
In cases of disastrous or extreme fire or smoke events, rescue, alert, confine, and evacuate
(RACE) should be employed. The patient should be rescued from the room in which the fire has
occurred. An alert should be given to staff, the fire alarm system should be activated, and a call
should be made to the fire department. The room should be confined and isolated. Doors should
be closed, medical gas valves should be shut off, automatic smoke evacuation should begin, and
electrical power to the room should be stopped. Finally, the incident room should be evacuated
and, if necessary, the entire surgical suite. Of note, an OR fire of this nature is an extremely rare
event, and only 2 known cases have occurred over the last 30 plus years in which the OR had to
The FDA as a part of its national fire protection week has identified a number of things that
surgeons, OR nurses, and operative allied health personnel can do to minimize the risk of an OR
fire (Table 5).
Surgeons can help increase awareness about this risk by giving talks and communicating to
the nurses and other OR staff and taking the appropriate precautions that are outlined in this
section. Several other resources are available regarding this topic, including the The Society of
American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) Fundamental Use of Surgical
Energy (FUSE) program (www.fuseprogram.org), the Anesthesia Patient Safety foundation
(www.apsf.org), and others as listed in Table 6. Additional resources or additional information
are listed in Table 7.
Electrical interactions with CIEDs
Patients may present for surgery with many types of implanted electronic devices. These
include CIEDs, deep brain simulators, spinal cord stimulators, vagal nerve stimulators,
implantable infusion pumps, and cochlear implants. CIED is the term generally used for
pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). Whether you need to be
concerned about the presence of a CIED with respect to surgical energy use is largely dependent
on the type and location of the surgical procedure. For example, simple excision of a skin lesion
Operating room fire risk assessment factors.
Open oxygen source
Surgery over chest, neck, and head
Use of a potential ignition source
462 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
from an extremity would not necessarily need the preparations discussed here. Most surgical
procedures, however, do at least warrant a discussion with the perioperative team regarding the
presence of a CIED, the nature of the procedure, and whether and which precautions must be
There are a large number of patients with CIEDs. At least 3 million patients have conventional
pacemakers and approximately 750,000 more receive implants in the United States yearly. More
than 300,000 patients have ICDs and approximately 10,000 are implanted per month according
to the Heart Rhythm Society. By 2020, it is estimated that approximately 670,000 ICDs would be
present in the American population.
Many sources of EMI exist in the OR environment. These include monopolar electrosurgical
devices, monopolar endoscopic devices, RFA tools, electrocardiographic monitors, fluid and
blood warmers, MRI magnets, computed tomography machines, and nerve stimulators. Most
newer CIEDs are very well shielded from everyday EMI, but the amount of energy presented by
surgical devices may overcome that level of shielding. Several factors determine the effects of
EMI on CIED: the intensity of the energy field or source, the frequency and waveform of the
signal, the distance between the source and CIED leads, and the orientation of the leads with
respect to the field or source. In other words, we want to know what device is being used, what
mode it is being used in, what energy level is selected, where the dispersion pad is placed on the
patient, and approximately what the current path is through the patient.
There are many potential effects of EMI on a CIED, some more common than others.36 The
most common is inappropriate inhibition or triggering of a pacemaker or ICD. The pacemaker
generator responds to the energy from the surgical device as a cardiac signal. For a pacemakerdependent
patient, it may be interpreted as native cardiac rhythm, inhibiting the activity of the
pacemaker. For an ICD, it could be interpreted as an arrhythmia and inappropriately deliver a
shock the patient. EMI can also cause unintended asynchronous pacing. This is fairly rare with
current devices. Reprogramming of the device is also rare with generator models from the last
decade or so, but resets and safety modes are still possible. Physical components of the generator
can be damaged if the current is in close proximity or directly on the pulse generator. Current
can also be conducted by the leads into the cardiac tissue, inducing ventricular or atrial
fibrillation. Injury at the lead-tissue interface when energy is conducted to the tissue can create
scarring. This can raise the pacing threshold and result in the patient not being appropriately
Operating room fire resources.
Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF). Prevention and management of surgical fires (video). www.apsf.org/
AORN Guidance statement: Fire safety in the perioperative setting. AORN video at www.cine-med.com.
Practice advisory for the prevention and management of operating room fires: an updated report by the American
Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Operating Room Fires. Anesthesiology. 2013 Feb;118(2):271-90.
AORN Guidance Statement: Fire prevention in the operating room. AORN J 2005;81:1067-75.
Preventing surgical fires. www.jointcomission.org/SentinelEvent/wentineleventalert/sea_29.
Recommendations to increase awareness about operating room fires.46
Find out how to prevent fires (eg, FUSE Program)
Tell colleagues about the importance of using surgical fire risk assessment
Talk about surgical fires during staff meetings
Do an in-service educational program
Ask your facility what is being done to reduce operating room fire risk
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 463
When a patient presents for surgery several pieces of information must be determined. First,
is a CIED present? This can be determined by history and physical examination. Once the
presence of the CIED is established then more information must be sought, including the type of
device. Most patients have an identification card that may assist with this. Alternatively, a chest
radiograph may be obtained as devices are labeled with radiographically readable codes. The
best source of information is clearly the patient’s cardiologists in charge of managing the device,
as they would also be able to provide information about the indication for device placement and
pacemaker dependence. If it is not known whether a patient is pacemaker dependent, the device
can be reprogrammed to a minimum rate to determine whether adequate ventricular activity is
present. Device function should be established as well. This is most efficiently accomplished by
interrogation of the device either by the electrophysiology service or remotely. The ideal
situation is to obtain a “prescription” for perioperative pacemaker management from the
managing physician and would include all of the above information. Physicians providing care to
patients with pacemakers should be familiar with the NBG codes that are commonly used to
communicate pacemaker settings.51 Codes indicate the chambers paced, chamber sensed,
response to sensing, programmability and rate modulation, and multisite pacing (Table 8).
A pertinent question is whether EMI is likely to occur. If a nonmonopolar tool can be used
(eg, bipolar device or ultrasonic scalpel) then the risk to the patient is mitigated. In additional to
traditional bipolar forceps, newer bipolar tools include the LigaSure and Gyrus devices. If a
monopolar device is necessary given the nature of the surgical procedure, the mode of energy
selected is important. Unblended cut is better than a “blend” mode, which is better than pure
“coag.” Unblended cut is continuous, of low voltage, and easier for the CIED to filter out.52
If a patient is pacemaker dependent it is usually recommended that the pacemaker be
reprogrammed to an asynchronous mode. One must be aware of the potential for R-on-T
phenomenon vs risk of pacemaker inhibition. Other pacemaker modes that must be taken into
consideration for reprogramming include rate-adaptive functions. These can be activated
inadvertently during preparation of the chest or during mechanical ventilation by activation of
bioimpedance sensors and may result in a higher heart rate than desired during surgery.
ICD antitachyarrhythmia functions should be suspended to avoid inappropriate shocking of the
patient and defibrillation and temporary pacemaking equipment should be immediately
In the case of urgent or emergent surgery, or even an elective patient presenting without
prior evaluation, another question is whether or not a magnet is appropriate or safe to use in lieu
of reprogramming.53 Placement of a magnet often results in asynchronous pacing; the exact
response and pacing rate vary with manufacturers and may be affected by the remaining battery
life. For an ICD, a magnet typically does not alter pacemaker function but often disables
tachyarrhythmia therapy. Each patient much be considered individually; using short bursts to
avoid ICD oversensing or hemodynamic compromise from pacer inhibition may be safer than
arbitrarily placing a magnet. If the patient is pacemaker dependent and has a combined ICD and
pacemaker device it would require reprogramming. The patient should be monitored
continuously until the baseline programming is reestablished.
Intraoperatively the patient should be monitored with continuous EKG per American Society
of Anesthesiology standards as well as some form of continuous waveform to verify perfusion.
This may be a pulse oximetry plethysmogram or arterial waveform tracing. The EKG alone is
Chamber(s) paced Chamber(s) sensed Response to sensing Programmability, rate modulation Multisite pacing
0 ¼ none 0 ¼ none 0 ¼ none c 0 ¼ none
A ¼ atrium A ¼ atrium T ¼ triggered R ¼ rate modulation A ¼ atrium
V ¼ ventricle V ¼ ventricle I ¼ inhibited V ¼ ventricle
D ¼ dual D ¼ dual D ¼ dual D ¼ dual
464 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
unreliable as there tends to be “noise” interference when the monopolar device is activated.
The dispersion plate (commonly and erroneously known as the “grounding pad”) should be
positioned such that the current does not cross the CIED system (generator and leads). Although
the thigh may be the traditional location, it may not be the best choice if the surgical site is
cephalad to the CIED. The goal is to keep the current path as far away from the generator and
leads as possible. If the surgical site is below the umbilicus (approximately 6 in or greater away
from the leads), there is generally lower risk for interference with CIED.
The surgeon can help avoiding interference with the CIED by carefully using the monopolar
tool. “Arcing,” activating the tool when distant from the tissue, should be avoided. Indirect
activation (touching a metal instrument with the monopolar tool) may also cause arcing. Short
intermittent bursts are preferable to longer activations. As mentioned previously, “cut” mode
should be used in favor of “coag,” and the lowest effective energy levels should be selected.
The same rules apply for RFA, which is a higher energy form of monopolar surgery. The CIED
should again be kept out of the current path if at all possible. RFA may be chosen as the modality
for treatment vs surgery owing to the extent of patient comorbidity; thus, there may be a greater
chance of CIED presence in this patient population. Unlike a monopolar tool, the energy is
applied for longer intervals and at high energy, thus having higher potential for interference.
All devices should be interrogated postoperatively after RFA given the heavily applied
monopolar current. Until the device is interrogated, the patient should be maintained on a
In the gastroenterology suite, there are several monopolar endoscopic devices in common
use. These include snares, hot forceps, endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography (ERCP)
sphincterotomes, the argon plasma coagulation device, endoscopic balloon array, and endoscopic
submucosal dissection knives. Bipolar devices include the multipolar electrocoagulation
gold probe and the RF array ablation catheter. The heater probe is a form of direct cautery. Given
the proximity of the stomach to the heart, the selection of endoscopic tools must be considered
in case of the pacemaker patient.
Postoperatively, CIEDs should be interrogated if at all possible. This is very important for
those who are pacemaker dependent, those who were reprogrammed, or underwent
hemodynamically challenging surgery with large fluid volume shifts or emergent surgery above
the umbilicus. However, rare damage at the lead-tissue interface may not be apparent for 24-48
hours. Higher risk patients should be monitored continuously until the device is interrogated.50
To summarize, the presence of a CIED must be established preoperatively and particulars of
function established. Whether a monopolar surgical device is necessary for the surgery is the
next decision point; if so, the likely current path should be noted and appropriate choice of
device mode selected. Postoperatively, the CIED should be examined before patient discharge to
maintain patient safety.
Fig. 10. The Fundamental Use of Surgical Energy (FUSE) logo. (Adapted with permission from The Society of American
Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons [SAGES].) (Color version of figure is available online.)
D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468 465
The FUSE program
You have likely learned a lot from this overview. Surely, you have many questions. Consider
going online to learn more with the FUSE online curriculum (Fig 10). The SAGES FUSE program is
set up for nurses, residents, medical students, and practicing physicians.
There is a series of 12 modules that you go through at your own pace. This program is free,
and you can learn the material and take quizzes as you go along. CME and CEU credits are
awarded for a fee. The ultimate intent is for all surgeons, as leaders in the OR, to obtain FUSE
certification by sitting for a written, validated, proctored multiple-choice examination.
To maximize learning and one’s chance of passing the test, there is the FUSE manual (Fig 11)
in addition to the online modules. The manual covers everything from monopolar to bipolar to
RF devices and endoscopic applications, among other topics. The examination is difficult, but
those who have taken it attest to the importance of the content. There is a sense of accomplishment
knowing that you have gained knowledge that would enable you to take truly better care
of your patients. So, if you want to learn more, this is the time to take out your iPad and visit
Dr Robinson has research grants from Medtronics Inc, Karl Storz Endoscopy, and Covidien.
Dr Mikami is a consultant for Medtronics Inc. (formally Covidien), Care Fusion, and W.L. Gore.
Fig. 11. Cover of the SAGES Manual on the Fundamental Use of Surgical Energy. (Adapted with permission from The
Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons [SAGES].) (Color version of figure is available online.)
466 D.B. Jones et al. / Current Problems in Surgery 52 (2015) 447–468
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