Failing to sterilize surgical instruments is one type of medical malpractice. This sort of health care provider error can result in serious infections, and sometimes, even death. The severe consequences of a failure to sterilize hospital equipment have lead to hospitals putting strict measures into place to insure that only proper equipment is used on patients. However, despite there being universal agreement on the importance of sterilization of instruments, two different news agencies are reporting this month on two different hospitals in two different cities that used unsterilized equipment on patients.
Hospital Used Unsterilized Surgical Equipment
NBC News Channel 11 KARE reports that Abbott Northwestern hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota used unsterilized equipment in surgeries earlier this month. A hospital employee who spoke to KARE said, “This is … incredibly unacceptable and dangerous.” Fourteen unsterilized instrument sets were released into service. Four of them were actually used on patients. Those four patients have all been contacted by the hospital and have been offered testing for infections. So far no information has been released to the public about how this happened or how the problem was eventually discovered.
An Ohio Hospital Also Used Unsterilized Tools
Another story of a hospital failing to properly sterilize equipment before using it comes from Chillicothe, Ohio. Chillicothe is a town of over twenty thousand people inside the Columbus, Ohio metro area. The Chillicothe Gazette reported earlier this month that surgeries were on hold at Adena Medical Center because of a sterilization issue. At this hospital, the sterilization problem was first noticed when a member of a surgical team noticed stains on surgical towels that had gone through the sterilization equipment. As a result of the discover, the hospital postponed all elective surgeries, and emergency patients were transferred to other facilities. The hospital claims to have discovered the problem as soon as it happened, however, at the time of the Gazette’s report, it had not yet determined the cause of the problem.
Importance of Sterilization
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sterilization destroys all of the microorganisms on surgical equipment. The “use of inadequately sterilized critical items represents a high risk of transmitting pathogens.” Critical items are medical devices that have contact with sterile body tissues or fluids. Failing to sterilize these items can result in disease transmission.
This only makes sense. After all, the public is well aware that using unsterilized equipment for procedures as simple as piercing an ear or belly button can lead to nasty infections. It is also well known that serious diseases can be spread between drug users if they share needs. Ultimately, using unsterilized surgical equipment is dangerous in the same way sharing needles is dangerous. Fortunately, failures in sterilization in hospitals are very rare, but these two cases prove that they do happen. It is troubling that these hospitals have so far been unable to determine the cause of the sterilization failures. If it has happened at these hospitals, it may very well have happened at other hospitals and had serious consequences for patients. The infections that can be transmitted with unclean instruments are only limited by the number of infections to which the instruments are exposed.
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