Hard-to-Read IV labels may raise risk of anesthesia errors

A recent study found that hard-to-read labels can lead to anesthesia errors.

When you undergo surgery, you rightfully expect the surgical team to use their education and experience to ensure that obvious (and not-so-obvious) errors are avoided during the procedure. Unfortunately, a new study revealed that something as simple as a look-alike label can put you at risk of an anesthesia error during a surgical procedure.

Details of study

The Journal of Patient Safety recently published the study, which involved 96 anesthesiology and nurse anesthetist students at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. The study was based on a real-life close call, where an IV bag of lidocaine was almost used instead of a bag of hetastarch. Had this error occurred, the patient would have certainly been killed.

The study required the participants to participate in two separate simulated surgical procedures using an anesthesia cart. For the first procedure, researchers improperly stocked the cart by mixing together lidocaine and hetastarch in the same drawer. Each of the drugs had the standard labeling. During the second procedure, the same improperly stocked cart was used, only this time, the drugs had enhanced labels printed on an opaque background, rather than a transparent one, which made them easier to read.

The differences between the two procedures were dramatic. During the procedure using the drugs with standard labels, 60 percent of participants committed a major surgical error by using the wrong medication. Conversely, when the enhanced labels were used, the students were 2.61 times more likely to use the correct drug.

The study's results proved that something as simple as a change in drug labeling can make a significant difference in enhancing patient safety. Although the findings were enough to convince the VA hospital used in the study to switch to the enhanced labels for all surgical procedures, they are not currently in use in other hospitals. However, the researchers hope that the published results will persuade other hospitals and manufacturers to implement similar changes.

Consult an attorney

When anesthesia errors occur, the results can be catastrophic. Patients that survive the error can experience a wide range of serious conditions such as coma, heart attack, asphyxia or brain damage. Although such an error often constitutes medical malpractice, obtaining compensation can be a significant battle, due to the complicated issues of proof involved.

As a result, it is vital to have the assistance of an experience medical malpractice attorney at your side. The attorneys at Breslin & Breslin, P.A. can work with medical experts to establish proof of malpractice and recover the compensation that you are due under New Jersey law.