August 24, 2010

Medical Tube Mix-Ups Affect Hundreds of Patients Each Year

by Levin & Perconti

The New York Times published an eye-opening story last weekend on an all-too-common medical device error that continues to injure and kill hundreds of patients in hospitals across the country each year. The problem involves medical tubes. Many patients have several tubes used throughout a single stay at a hospital. Each tube has a unique function, delivering certain things into the body of the patients—some into a patient’s nose others through a vein, arteries, the stomach or even lungs. Different fluids, medicine, blood, or nutrition are delivered through these tubes directly to the appropriate part of the body. If a mix-up occurs, however, and a substance is delivered into the wrong tube and the wrong part of the body, the results are often deadly. The similarity between the tubes makes the problem a common medical error

The mistakes ultimately take a variety of forms. In one example, a twenty four year old mother and her unborn child were killed when a nurse accidentally placed a liquid food bag directly into the vein instead of into the stomach through the nose. In another case, a spinal anesthetic was accidentally slipped into a vein, killing the sixteen year told patient.

Even though the problem continues, little is being done to correct it. The manufacturers of the tubes, hospitals, and medical regulators all claim that one of the others is responsible for the problem. Accountability is few and far between. The medical device industry has been reluctant to make any changes. The industry is unlikely to make design changes to improve safety unless the regulators force these makers of medical devices to improve their safety.

However, U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval processes are often slow, adversely affecting safety-related changes. Dr. Robert Smith, a former F.D.A. device reviewer explained that the “F.D.A. could fix this tubing problem tomorrow, but because the agency is so worried about making [the] industry happy, people continue to die.”

These mistakes represent egregious breaches of basic care that should never claim another innocent life. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti will continue to advocate for the rights of those affected by these medical errors until the appropriate steps are taken to ensure that no future patient falls victim. We have personally fought for many victims of mistakes made with medical devices. Even one error is too many when simple prevention steps could eliminate the problem entirely.

Please click here to read more about this alarming medical malpractice problem.