by The Law Offices of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP
Like everything in the modern world, the health industry has been greatly altered by technological advancements. Technology often helps medical practitioners provide better care to their patients. Of course, the complexity of rapidly changing technology can also increase incidents of medical malpractice. This is often the case when training has been inadequate, staff is overworked or when they are just too busy to properly deal with the technology. The results of medical malpractice involving erroneous use of technology can be devastating to patients, leading at times to severe injuries or death. Here is the 2017 list of the greatest technology hazards in the medical world according to the annual report published by the ECRI Institute.
- Infusion Errors: The number one error resulting from the improper use of medical technology is infusion errors. When infusion pumps are installed for patients being treated with an IV, the installing medical staff member should ideally check to ensure that the medication is being properly dispensed into the tube. The fact that this step is too frequently skipped has resulted in infusion errors accounting for more technology related errors in healthcare than any other cause. If the roller clamp is not properly used, or the pump itself is damaged, the result can be a flow of medication through the tube that is not being controlled. This “IV free flow” is highly preventable, and the harm caused by it can be exceedingly severe, leading at times to the death of the patient.
- Failure to Properly Clean or Sterilize Medical Instruments: Certain medical instruments are not easy to properly clean. If the cleaning is not conducted with proper attention to each of the cleaning and sterilizing steps, the instrument may remain contaminated. This often occurs when the manual step of the cleaning processes is neglected. The disinfection and sterilizing steps alone are inadequate at decontamination. This type of error often involves tools such as arthoscopic shavers, duodenoscopes and other reusable instruments known to present cleaning and sterilization challenges.
- Missed Ventilator Alarms: Ventilator alarms are designed to alert medical staff of a failing ventilator. A ventilator is tasked with providing breathing for patients’ incapable of doing so themselves. Unfortunately, deaths have resulted after medical staff failed to respond to the ventilator alarm. “Alarm fatigue” is a phrase used to describe what happens to a person who is exposed to so many alarms that they become desensitized to them and no longer react as expected. Thus, the result of the multitude of medical instruments using alarms has led to medical staff becoming desensitized to these alarms, and missing important ones, such as ventilator alarms.
- Respiratory Depression Induced by Opioids: Hypoventilation, otherwise known as respiratory depression, can result from the use of opioids. If a patient on opioids is also taking another drug that has a sedating effect, or if that patient has another physical condition that might slow his or her respiratory system, such as sleep apnea, then he or she is at an increased risk of opioid-induced hypoventilation. Failure to detect respiratory depression can result in brain damage or the death of the patient.
- Infection Caused by Heater-Cooler Devices: Nontuberculous mycobacteria infections have been found in patients who have undergone heart surgery. This type of infection, which can prove life-threatening to the patient, is related to heater-cooler devices, which are used during heart surgery. While the cause of the development of this type of infection is still under investigation, it seems that contaminated exhaust systems in the heater-cooler devise are the culprit.
- Gaps in Software Management: Sophisticated medical technologies use software, which requires updates, and alerts. When these updates and alerts are not properly managed by healthcare facilities, or when the information regarding medical devices and their various software versions is not adequately maintained, organized and accessible, this can cause harm to patients, and also lead to cyber security risks.
- Radiation Hazards: Hybrid-OR suites include x-ray imaging systems which aid radiologists and OR staff in conducting complicated OR procedures. Radiologists might be well versed in the dangers of being exposed to ionizing radiation over time, but OR staff did not always receive proper training regarding protection from radiation. The risk of developing cancer has therefore been increased in these staff members as a result of their inadequate training on how to safely work with this technology.
- Faulty Automated Dispensing Cabinets (ADC): An Automated Dispensing Cabinet stores drugs and uses a computerized system to help hospital staff track and dispense medication. While ADCs can be a wonderful tool for hospital staff, they can also cause devastating problems if they are stocked with the wrong medication or the improper dose of the drug. Reports of patients being seriously injured as a result of receiving the wrong drug, too much of a drug, or too little of a drug have come out of hospitals where ADCs are in use.
- Accidents with Surgical Staplers: The misuse of surgical staplers, or the use of faulty surgical staplers has resulted in thousands of injuries a year. Damage to tissue, bleeding after operations, hemorrhaging and failed anastomosis have all been reported as the result of improper use of surgical staplers or devices that were malfunctioning.
- Malfunctioning devices as a result of using the wrong cleaning product: It might not be obvious that certain medical devices can be damaged simply by using the wrong type of cleaning product. With certain electronic tools, damage from improper cleaning products can cause them to malfunction, creating a risk to patients using these devices. This is why hospital personnel charged with cleaning and sterilizing hospital equipment must receive proper training, and must have access to a well-stocked supply all of the necessary cleaning products.
A keen awareness of the most common technology related medical errors can help medical facilities better care for their patients, and reduce the risk of committing medical malpractice claims.
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