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Study: hard-to-read IV labels may lead to anesthesia errors

A study found that anesthesia errors often occur due to difficulty reading IV labels.

When you go under the knife, you put your trust in the surgical team to use their years of training and experience to avoid making surgical errors. Certainly, you expect that simple errors will be easily avoided. However, a recent study revealed that something as basic as a hard-to-read label can cause a serious anesthesia error during the surgical procedure.

About the study

The study, recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety, was conducted at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and involved 96 nurse anesthetist and anesthesiology students. The students were asked to perform a simulated surgical procedure. The facts of the procedure were based on a real life occurrence where an IV bag of lidocaine was almost used on a patient in lieu of a bag of hetastarch. Fortunately, the error did not occur, as such a mistake would have been fatal.

The students performed two sets of simulated procedures using an anesthesia cart. Researchers stocked the cart improperly by putting the lidocaine and hetastarch IV bags in the same drawer. During the first set, the students performed the operation with IV bags bearing standard labeling. However, during the second set, the IV bags used had labels that were printed on an opaque background, instead of the standard clear one, which made them easier to read.

The study confirmed that the switch made a huge difference when it came to patient safety. During the set using standard labeling, only 40 percent of the students used the correct drug. However, when the easier to read labels were used, the students were 2.61 times more likely to choose the correct medication.

The study’s findings were so dramatic that the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System decided to immediately switch to the easier to read labels for all in-house surgical procedures. Unfortunately, not every other hospital has followed its lead. However, the study’s authors are optimistic that the results will persuade other hospitals and drug manufacturers to make similar changes.

If injured, get legal help

If you or a loved one has experienced an anesthesia error, the results can be calamitous. Patients that survive the experience can suffer from a wide range of conditions such as brain damage, heart attack or coma, leaving them and their families with high medical bills and loss of income.

Although such expenses can be recouped in a medical malpractice lawsuit, it can be difficult proving negligence. However, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can work with medical experts to uncover and prove the mistake, giving the victim (or family) the highest possible chance of a successful recovery.

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