Firm-Wide blog

Unclean Surgical Instruments Can Be Deadly

By Burg Simpson
August 6, 2018
3 min read

Of all the places you go, you expect hospitals to be among the most diligent about cleanliness. After all, they are in the health care business.

So, it is particularly startling to see stories like the one that emerged out of Denver, when Porter Adventist Hospital officials admitted that they had to notify at least 5,800 patients that they could have been treated by dirty surgical instruments. Specifically, officials determined that instruments used in various orthopedic and spinal surgical procedures had not been scrubbed properly. Apparently, the bone and tissue material that collects on the instruments during surgery can be difficult to eliminate during cleaning.

Hospital officials blamed personnel and insisted that further training would be provided.

A similar controversy swept Detroit Medical Center less than two years ago when the Detroit Free Press revealed the hospital system had used unclean surgical instruments for years. According to one report, “blood from a previous operation spurted out of a suction tube that was supposed to draw blood from a 7-month-old undergoing surgery for heart defects.”

If you have developed an illness after surgery, for whatever reason, you may have legitimate grounds for a medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice attorney can help determine if you have a case.

Keep it Clean

Surgeons conduct about 46.5 million surgeries every year in the United States. Each of those procedures can involve dozens of surgical instruments that must be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized every time. Failure to do so can result in potentially life-threatening contaminations, referred to as surgical site infections (SSIs) and can affect “the area of the skin where the incision is made, infections below the incision in muscles and tissues surrounding muscles and infections in other parts of the body involved in the surgery.”

In fact, SSIs are the most frequent and expensive of all hospital-acquired infections, accounting for 20 percent of them. Additionally, “they occur in an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of patients undergoing inpatient surgery. The estimated annual incidence of SSIs in the United States ranges from 160,000 to 300,000, and the estimated annual cost ranges from $3.5 billion to $10 billion. On average, a surgical site infection increases the hospital length of stay by 9.7 days.”

Standards for Surgical Instrument Maintenance

In 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for instrument sterilization.  According to the report, factors that can affect disinfection include:

  • Number and location of microorganisms.
  • Innate resistance to microorganisms.
  • Concentration and potency of disinfectants.
  • Physical and chemical factors.
  • Organic and inorganic matter.
  • Duration of exposure.
  • Biofilms.

While the more responsible medical facilities have staffs dedicated to disinfecting and sterilizing surgical instruments, some facilities relegate the job to overworked nurses who have other jobs to do.

If you have contracted an infection after a surgical procedure, you could be eligible for compensation of injuries and/or illnesses you might have suffered as a result. Reach out to the Colorado medical malpractice lawyers at Burg Simpson Colorado as soon as possible by calling our Denver office at 303-792-5595 or complete a Free Case Evaluation Form.

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