IV labels may raise risk of anesthesia errors, study finds

A study found that a change in IV labels can reduce the risk of anesthesia errors.

During surgery, anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists rely on intravenous (IV) drug bag labels to allow them to select the appropriate drug to administer at the appropriate time. Unfortunately, a recent study found that these labels often look very similar and significantly raise the risk of a very dangerous surgical error-an anesthesia error. When this type of error occurs, it can often be fatal for the patient.

About the study

The study, recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety, involved a simulated surgical procedure with 96 nurse anesthetist and anesthesiology students at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. The researchers based the simulated procedure on a close call that happened in a real life surgery, where a 500 ml IV bag of lidocaine was nearly used in lieu of a similar IV bag of hetastarch. Thankfully the mistake did not actually occur, as it would have been fatal.

During the simulated procedure, an anesthesia cart was stocked with hetastarch IV bags along with lidocaine bags that were incorrectly mixed in with them. Each of the drugs had the standard labels that such drugs have in all hospitals. All students went through the simulated procedure using the cart.

After the students performed the procedure with the incorrectly stocked cart, they underwent a second procedure. This time, the cart was stocked incorrectly with both drugs, but this time, the drugs had enhanced IV labels printed on them with white text on a dark background, which enhanced readability. In addition to being easier to read, the drugs with the enhanced labels also had vital drug information printed on them, such as the drug's name, strength and indication warnings.

As the researchers suspected, the change in labels made a significant difference. During the simulated procedure using standard labels, only 40 percent chose the right drug to administer. However, when the new labels were used, the students were 2.61 times more likely to select the correct drug.

The study's findings confirmed that small inexpensive changes, such as making labels easier to read and providing more drug information on them, can make a huge difference when it comes to patient safety. Unfortunately, the enhanced labels in use during the procedure are not yet standard in the real world, although the researchers in the study hope that the study's findings will persuade hospitals and manufacturers to make changes.

If harmed, consult an attorney

When an anesthesia error occurs, the results are often very serious, including cardiac arrest or brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, this type of error is often fatal. Since anesthesia errors are a form of medical malpractice, the injured party or close family members of the deceased may recover compensation under New Mexico law.

Successfully proving a medical malpractice claim is often an uphill battle, as complicated issues of proof are often involved. However, having an experienced medical malpractice attorney on your side often can even the odds. The seasoned attorneys at The Law Offices of Salazar, Sullivan & Jasionowski are experienced in handling a variety of medical malpractice cases and can work on your behalf to secure the compensation you deserve under the law.