When Good Medical Instruments Go Bad

Recently I commented upon a story about a Seattle area hospital which knew it was infecting patients with endoscopes due to inadequate sterilization techniques but was keeping this critical information from its patients.  To make matters worse, the infections involved antibiotic-resistant bacteria which are fatal in about 40% of all cases.  I consider withholding such information to be unethical and evidence of malpractice by the hospital.

The hospital claimed that it had developed new sterilization techniques so that there would no longer be a problem with transmitted infections.  I remarked that this was great for the patients at this Seattle hospital but not much comfort for patients elsewhere who were still being treated with endoscopes that were being inadequately sterilized.  Now the story is garnering national attention.  Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Chicago have joined Seattle as cities where outbreaks have occurred.  As reported here, almost 180 patients were exposed to superbug infections at UCLA due to inadequately sterilized endoscopes.  The FDA weighed in with recommendations that hospitals carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sterilization.  As did the Seattle hospital, however, UCLA claims the manufacturer’s sterilization instructions are inadequate.  It has been estimated that as many as a half a million patients may have been exposed to infections due to this problem.  Commenters are properly asking how such a widespread problem with so many bad infections could escape notice for so long and why did the FDA wait as long as it did to address the problem.

We have a right to insist that everything that can be reasonably done to insure patient safety be done.  Certainly one reason this problem got as bad as it did and went on as long as it did was hospital secrecy.  If hospitals had revealed the infections they were seeing from the use of these reprocessed endoscopes when they first began to notice them, many patients would have been saved from the risk of a fatal antibiotic-resistant infection.  Unfortunately, revealing information like this to patients is contrary to the unwritten law of hospital secrecy.  The hospital knows and it is up to the patient to find out.  Good luck with that.  When this type of information is revealed, it happens only after the hospital in question is caught red handed and has to do damage control.

If you or a loved one developed an antibiotic resistant infection after an endoscopic procedure here in Arizona, give us a call.  We may be able to help.

Posted in antibiotic resistant bacteria, blood infections, disclosure of medical mistakes, Hospital Negligence, Hospitals, medical ethics, Secrecy |