Posted by Bill Sandweg on 23 January 2015.
A story just appeared in the Seattle Times which touches upon a number of issues we have discussed in this blog. It addressed an outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria at a medical center in Seattle between 2012 and 2014. Two of the issues raised by the story caught my eye.
First, the outbreak was tied to medical equipment which was not adequately sterilized so that antibiotic resistant bacteria from one patient were being transmitted to another. At least 32 patients were likely infected in this manner and about a third of them died. I have talked in the past about inadequate sterilization of equipment which is used over and over again. It is a recognized and continuing problem. What is truly scary about the Seattle outbreak is that the hospital claims it was following the standard sterilization protocol for the devices but that the protocol was not good enough to prevent the spread of disease. The hospital says that it has now developed its own protocol, which is more stringent than the standard one, and which it claims now makes its hospital the safest place in the country to undergo one of these procedures.
As troubling as this may be to contemplate for those of us who will be undergoing these procedures here in Arizona where only standard sterilization protocols remain in use is the fact the hospital never notified the patients or the families of the patients who were infected by the inadequately sterilized instruments that the patient’s infection was related to the device. This is pretty much par for the course. If at all possible, hospitals and doctors will remain silent even when they know their conduct has injured you. You are on your own in figuring out that you have been the victim of medical malpractice. This is particularly unfair when the illness is an infection which could come from anywhere. Only the hospital and its employees knew that in these cases the infection came from their reuse of medical instruments. Only the hospital and its employees had access to the records of all of their patients and were able to put the pieces together. The poor patients never had a chance.
The hospital offered as its excuse for keeping patients in the dark that to inform them of the outbreak and its relation to the reuse of instruments would alarm them unnecessarily. After all, reasoned the hospital, there was nothing the patients could do about the inadequately sterilized instruments. Of course, that ignores the fact that patients might want to know about this in advance so they might select a hospital which is not infecting its patients or might choose to skip the procedure entirely because the risk of a fatal infection outweighed the benefits of the procedure. Or the patients who were infected or the families of those who died might want to explore their legal right to be compensated should it turn out that the hospital had more culpability than it admits.
Two thoughts to take away from this latest revelation: 1) Be a cautious consumer. Check the available data on the hospital your doctor wants to use and make sure it is a safe as possible. Shun hospitals with poor health and safety records. 2) Don’t expect hospitals or doctors to tell you when they know they have harmed you. The White Curtain of Silence remains carefully and tightly drawn and it is up to the poor, injured patient to discover the truth for himself or herself. If you think you or a loved one may have been injured by medical malpractice, call an experienced lawyer to discuss your situation.