Modern medicine has come a long way since Charles Chamberland invented the first pressure steam sterilizer for surgical instruments in 1876. However, post-operative infections are still far too common in the United States, and there have been alarming recent reports of issues with equipment sterilization in hospitals across the country – including Michigan.
Importance of Sterilization
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sterilization is a process that destroys microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) on the surfaces of instruments that come in contact with body tissues and fluids. It is critical to properly sterilize surgical instruments to prevent infection and the transmission of diseases from patient to patient.
Issues with Sterilization in American Hospitals
In September 2016, state and federal regulators conducted a surprise inspection of the central sterile processing department at Detroit Medical Center after problems emerged suggesting improperly sterilized surgical instruments. The Detroit News reported that internal e-mails and reports indicated that surgeons and staff had been complaining for more than a decade about dirty, broken, and missing instruments. In early 2015, open-heart surgery on a seven-month-old baby had to be halted when a tube in the bypass machine was found to be clogged with blood from another patient.
In 2014, a number of surgical patients were put at risk of serious infection when the doctors and nurses at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis used non-sterilized equipment such as clamps and scissors during procedures. USA Today reported that the largest hospital in the Twin Cities area suffered a major breakdown in safety when 14 sets of unsterilized instruments were released for use.
Surgeries were put on hold at Adena Regional Medical Center in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 2014 when a staff member noticed rust-colored stains on surgical towels that were supposedly sterile. The Chillicothe Gazette reported that although the problem was fixed a few days later, the root cause was never identified.
Healthcare-Associated Infections: A Preventable Threat to Patient Safety
About 1.7 million healthcare-associated infections cost the United States $20 billion each year and result in nearly 100,000 deaths. Yet, these infections are largely preventable. When evidence-based interventions and guidelines from the CDC were implemented in 103 ICUs and 67 hospitals in Michigan, a 66 percent reduction in infections was noted over a period of 18 months. Minor infections may produce barely noticeable symptoms, but serious infections can be life-threatening.
How do you know if a postsurgical infection was the result of medical negligence? Here are some issues to consider in a potential medical malpractice lawsuit:
- Failure to Obtain Informed Consent: A hospital may be held liable, even if an infection was not preventable, if the patient was not warned of the risk of infection before the surgery.
- Delay in Treatment: A physician may be held responsible for failing to diagnose and/or treat a surgical site infection in a timely manner.
- Surgical Neglect: A surgeon may be liable for any infection acquired during surgery due to an improper surgical technique such as leaving a dead space where bacteria can collect.
- Improper Sterilization/Disinfection: The law holds hospitals liable for improperly sterilized surgical instruments and failure of staff to wash hands and keep the patient’s environment disinfected.
If you have had complications due to an infection after surgery, please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group today to discuss your situation.