A revolution is underway in American hospitals in their attitude toward infections acquired in the hospital. It used to be regarded as an inevitable and unpreventable side effect of hospitalization that some patients would acquire nasty infections that lengthened their stay or even killed some patients.
Now, thanks to some arresting data from safety pioneers such as Dr. Peter Pronovost at Johns Hopkins, hospitals are gradually accepting that most infections are preventable. On the other hand, it’s still not easy to prove in court that an individual case of infection was medical malpractice.
A strong malpractice case for a hospital-acquired infection requires evidence such as:
- Hospital staff’s failure to follow accepted sanitary protocols for changing tubes placed in the body. This especially applies to “central line infections,” which are life-threatening infections that mostly happen to patients in intensive care who get large-bore tubes placed into big blood vessels. Dr. Pronovost’s work proved that with rigorous adherence to simple checklists for handwashing, draping the patient, and other steps, nearly all these infections can be prevented. The hospital record should contain a document proving that the protocol was followed every time a tube was put in or removed.
- Direct observation by a family member that sanitary practices were not followed and that an infection happened shortly afterwards. In one case, for example, a doctor doing a lumbar puncture in the lower back (to remove spinal fluid for testing) failed to use gloves or a mask, and the patient later died of infection in the same spinal fluid, which spread to the brain and caused meningitis.
- Failure to give a surgical patient an injection of antibiotics at the beginning of the surgery.
- The hospital’s failure to follow other accepted practices for reducing infections, such as testing all patients at admission for whether they are carriers of the deadly MRSA bug and isolating such patients in special units.
These are just examples. Every case is unique and must be studied carefully on its own merits.
Medicine first began to understand that lives could be saved by doctors washing their hands in 1846, in Vienna, Austria. Ignaz Semmelweis, a cranky and compulsive obstetrician, counted deaths from what was then called childbed fever, which mothers contracted shortly after giving birth. He noticed that at one clinic, as many as three in ten mothers were dying, but at another, hardly any did. The deliveries at the clinic with the high death rate were all done by physicians, while the clinic with few deaths was run by midwives. Read more…
You need to enforce good hand hygiene for your hospitalized family member with a smile and a gentle tone of voice, but be persistent. It can save a life. And here are some other good tips:
- If it’s a planned hospitalization, the hospital-bound person should wash with a chlorhexidine-based soap for at least two days beforehand. A common brand is Hibiclens. Read More…
Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney
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