Inaction on Look-Alike Tubes Continue to Kill Patients

A few weeks before delivery, Robin Rodgers was losing weight and vomiting terribly. Her doctor immediately hospitalized her and ordered that Robin be fed through a tube until her son was born. But based on a mistake that stemmed from decades of lax oversight of medical devices, the medical facility she was hospitalized in mixed up the  IV tubes.

Instead of the hospital staff snaking a tube through Robin’s nose and into her stomach, the opposite happened. The nurse responsible for her care coupled the liquid-food bag to a tube that directly entered the vein, an exercise that left Ms. Rodgers in a lot of pain. Putting food directly into a person’s bloodstream is the same as pouring concrete down a drain.

Ms. Rodgers didn’t manage to survive this medical error and so are hundreds of other deaths that have been due to errors in tube mix-ups. Intravenous (IV) tubing errors have been reported in a lot of jurisdictions across the globe, but there seems to be little or no action at all. In the U.S. for instance, a survey carried out in 2006 found that 16% of hospitals had experienced IV tubing mix-up.

While action has been delayed both in the U.S. and plenty of other jurisdictions across the globe, that doesn’t mean that there is no way to reduce or completely eliminate deaths that result due to IV error. With tube manufacturer, hospitals, regulators and standards groups continuing with their blame game and pointing fingers at one another in trying to explain the delay, urgent solutions are needed now rather than later.



So, How Do We Put an End to Medical Tubing Mishaps?

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) other relevant bodies in other countries have been slow in taking action, there are a number of recommendations that have been put forward on how such errors can be significantly minimized or even completely reduced. Examined closely, they can actually work.

First, tough laws need to be put in place so as to minimize cases of IV tubing misconnection mishaps. Those found guilty of such errors need to heavily punished by the law and victims need to be compensated heavily if its established that they are actually on the receiving end of IV misconnection error.

Apart from the above, there is a need to ensure that tubes aimed for different functions are marked with different colors so as to avoid confusion that has led to deaths of many people. In the same way different nozzles found at different gas stations are labeled or colored so as to prevent drivers from pumping their cars with the wrong fuel is exactly the same thing that should happen when it comes to IV tubes. In other words, there is a need to change the look or design of the tubes so that a tube aimed for one function isn’t compatible with another.

Apart from changing the design of IV tubes, and closely related to the above point, deaths or injuries resulting from tube mix-ups can be greatly minimized by clearly labeling syringes and bags that have epidural medications with ‘Only For Epidural Use’ in a large font. This way, there is a high chance of minimizing such terrible medical errors.

Still, there are those who argue that storage epidural and IV tubes separately can reduce such medical errors by great margins. Examined keenly, this could actually work. To reduce the risk of mix-ups, there is a need to have separate storing chambers for both of them as opposed to lumping them together, an aspect that further increases a patient’s danger, especially in the event of an emergency where everybody seems to be on the rush.

We live in a world where matters to do with technology can’t be questioned anymore. On almost a daily basis, something new gets invented. Why not embrace the same technology in the medical field? Experts argue that IV errors can be minimized by use pump technology. When possible, medics need to ensure that they use smart pump technology when administering IV and epidural technology. In fact, if possible, they should avoid the use of dual channel pumps for simultaneous administration of epidural and IV infusions.

Staff education is another area that hospitals and other healthcare facilities need to foster. At all times, there is a need to come up with a credentialing process aimed at ensuring that all practitioners whose role is to hang IV infusions and program pumps are competent. Constantly heightening the awareness of the risk that accompany tube mix-ups will ensure that the staff remain always vigilant and avoid such errors.

For medical facilities dispensing their services to the larger public, there is another recommendation that may be helpful to them and their staff in general. While this may seem somewhat irrelevant, this recommendation may turn out to be helpful. There are those who have argued that hospitals need to place IV tubes and epidural tubes on different sides of a patient’s bed so as to avoid some confusion. For instance, a tube meant for IV function can be hanged on the right hand and another for other functions on the left hand.

The Bottom Line

Tubing errors is an area that’s well documented. On a yearly basis, plenty of hospitals, nurses and doctors find themselves on the receiving end of huge fines due to medical errors, chief among them being those related to IV errors. Even though there is some unwillingness by governments to ensure that such incidences are reduced or completely eliminated, manufacturers and hospitals can join hands and embrace some or even all of the recommendations stated above. IV errors are preventable, provided that there is urgency and will to do so. No one deserves to live the rest of his or her life with some injury that won’t go away or a permanent disability just because of a simple medical mistake. On the other hand, not all of us are ready to bear huge legal and compensation costs that result due to medical errors such as using the wrong tube. If you are a victim of an IV error, you need to seek immediate legal help. Don’t live with the pain as the person responsible for the error goes on with his or her daily business. Find an attorney in your area to assist you in the event that you are a victim of such circumstances.

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