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Study: look-alike labels may cause anesthesia errors

A study finds that a change in medicine labels for surgical IV bags can improve patient safety.
Just like laypersons, physicians rely of medicine labels to help them correctly identify the type of medicine to use for a medical condition or procedure. Getting the medicine right during surgery is of particular importance. Unfortunately, sometimes a particularly troublesome type of surgical error occurs-an anesthesia error – that can mean the difference between life and death. A recent study found that many medication labels on intravenous (IV) drugs used during surgery look alike, which can increase the possibility of this type of error.

Findings of study

The study, which involved 96 anesthesiology and nurse anesthetist students, was conducted at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Researchers used a simulated surgery and based it on an actual close call where a 500 ml IV bag of lidocaine was almost used instead of a 500 ml IV bag of hetastarch. Had the mistake actually occurred, it could have been fatal.

During the simulated surgery, the researchers used an anesthesia cart loaded with standard labeled hetastach IV bags along with incorrectly stocked lidocaine bags. Each student then underwent a simulated procedure using the cart. After that, each student was re-tested, however this time, the IV bags used enhanced labels that contained white text on a dark background printed on opaque white paper, which made reading them easier. In addition, the enhanced labels had important information on the front of them, including the drug’s name, strength, and administration warnings and indications.

The results between the runs using the two label types were dramatic. When the traditional labels were used, only 40 percent of the students administered the correct drug. However, when the enhanced labels were used, this number rose to 63 percent, making the student 2.61 times more likely to use the correct drug.

According to researchers, the study’s findings showed that even rather small changes can have a profound effect on patient safety. As a result of the findings, the hospital where the study was conducted immediately switched to using enhanced labels for in-house procedures. Since the results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety, researchers hope that more hospitals will follow.

If injured speak to an attorney

When the wrong type of medicine is administered during a surgical procedure, the effects can range from minor injuries, to brain damage from lack of oxygen and cardiac arrest leading to death. When this occurs, a claim for medical malpractice may exist, allowing victims to seek compensation for lost wages, rehabilitation expenses, pain and suffering, and other losses. If the error results in death, the decedent’s family may be able to recover losses in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Since both types of claims require an extensive investigation of the facts and can be complex in nature, it is helpful to have the assistance of an experienced attorney throughout the process. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Ray Gupta & Associates, LLC can advise you further on your claim and work to maximize your chances of a successful recovery.

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