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Unsterilized surgical tools may cause medical malpractice issues

Imagine you go into the hospital for a surgery that is expected to have a six-week recovery period. The initial surgery seems to be successful but two weeks after the operation you experience unexpected pain that suggests something is quite wrong. At the emergency room you are told that you have a serious infection caused by the surgery. Unfortunately, lethal infections caused by dirty surgical tools are not uncommon. Such medical mistakes may lead to medical malpractice issues.

According to a recent investigation by NBC News, the protocol for cleaning surgical equipment is not as thorough as the steps that medical teams go through before a surgery occurs. Although the doctors and medical staff that use the equipment are well-trained and use specific protocol to avoid medical mistakes in the operating room, the staff that cleans the equipment after surgery can be an overlooked part of the surgical process.

Usually, the departments in charge of cleaning surgical equipment are found in hospital basements and may be staffed by hourly-workers who are not paid enough. The workers are under pressure to clean equipment as fast as possible so that operating rooms can be used efficiently. Recent research has found that the push for efficiency has not always resulted in properly sterilized and clean equipment. According to one report, a risk management clinical engineer ran a camera through 350 suction instruments that had been sterilized according to hospital protocol, but the engineer found that every instrument contained surgical debris like blood or tissue. The results were presented to the Food and Drug Administration.

If a surgical site infection occurs, it is not likely that the error will be reported to a regulator. Only 25 states require hospitals to report surgical site infections and only one state requires sterilization workers to complete training. Surgical tools have also gotten smaller and more complex, and experts say newer tools are harder to clean. Experts say the cleaning instructions provided by manufacturers have not kept pace. As a result, some experts say change is needed across the board to remove the cleaning of surgical tools from the shadows.

Source: MSNBC, "TODAY Investigates: Dirty surgical instruments a problem in the OR," Stacey Naggiar and Kerri Zimmer, Feb. 22, 2012

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