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Hard-to-Read IV labels put patients at risk, study determines

A simple change in IV label design may prevent errors.

If you are about to undergo a surgical procedure, you put your trust in the anesthesiologist to ensure a pain-free operation. Since the training for this type of medical specialty is considerable, you expect that he or she would not make an obvious error. Unfortunately, anesthesiologists are only human and sometimes make errors that cross the line into medical malpractice. A recent study found that something as basic as the design of IV labels for drugs used during surgical procedures can sometimes cause medication errors.

The study's findings

The study was recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety and involved 96 anesthesiology students. During the study, the students were asked to perform a simulated surgical procedure that was based on events that happened during a real life procedure. During the procedure, an anesthesiologist almost incorrectly administered an IV bag of lidocaine (a pain reliever) instead of a bag of hetastarch (prevents shock from blood loss). Luckily, the error was caught in time, as this type of error would have been fatal.

During the study, the students performed two sets of simulated surgical procedures. For each set, they used a surgical cart with IV bags of lidocaine and hetastarch incorrectly mixed together within the same drawer. During each set of the procedure, an emergency administration of hetastarch was called for. During the first set, the IV bags had standard labeling with the text printed on a transparent background. During the second set, enhanced IV labels were used. This type of labeling was different, as the text was printed on a dark opaque background, which made the text stand out more.

Although the change was simple, it had a tremendous effect on the results. In the set using the traditional labels, 60 percent of the students used the wrong medication. However, during the second set, the enhanced labels made it 2.61 times more likely that the correct drug was used.

An attorney can help

Thankfully, the study's procedure did not involve a real patient, as the errors committed would have been fatal. Unfortunately, in real life, when similar anesthesia errors occur, tragic results often follow. Patients that survive the error often experience serious medical conditions such as coma, brain damage, heart attack or stroke. Some patients never fully recover and are left with life-long medical expenses as a result.

If you or a loved one have been harmed by an anesthesia error, it is vital to speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Proving negligence is rarely easy and requires the timely gathering of evidence. An attorney can work with medical experts to demonstrate negligence and obtain the compensation for your losses that you are entitled to by law.

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