Healthcare News & Insights

10 medical devices are potential time bombs

As much as technology has helped advance medicine, it can have a harmful side, too. When broken or used improperly, devices meant to heal can harm — or even cause death.

ECRI recently released its report on the 10 top technology hazards for 2010. The report, originally published in Health Devices, is based on information from ECRI’s database and investigations of medical device incidents.

The good news: Most of the problems listed below are preventable with proper staff training and device maintenance. ECRI says the top 10 hazards — and the reasons they happen — are:

  1. Cross-contamination from flexible endoscopes. This is usually caused by failure to follow appropriate sterilization procedures or using damaged equipment.
  2. Alarm hazards. Alarms may be turned off or ignored by staff who don’t understand their importance, or the alarms may not be heard if they aren’t set appropriately.
  3. Surgical fires. Although not frequent, when they happen, they’re often deadly. They generally occur in oxygen-enriched environments.
  4. CT radiation risks. CT scans have undeniably benefited innumerable patients. But they contain a relatively high radiation dose. It’s estimated that CT use causes approximately 6,000 cancers each year. To minimize risks, ECRI advises adjusting scanning protocol to minimize doses, and to use CT only when the benefits outweigh the risks.
  5. Retained devices and fragments. Retained devices are most common during surgery if staffers don’t follow surgical device counting procedures. Fragments left behind can occur during surgery and other treatments if a piece of equipment is damaged. Visual inspection of the device before use and after removal should prevent the problem.
  6. Needlesticks and sharps injuries. Improved training and awareness that needlestick prevention devices aren’t foolproof are staffers’ best tools to prevent this issue.
  7. Problems with computerized equipment and systems. While hardware and software issues can often be resolved without damaging patient care, if they aren’t caught quickly, they can lead to a variety of potentially  harmful problems including improper processing of images and data, delayed or misapplied treatments, alarm malfunctions, etc.
  8. Surgical stapler hazards. Another useful tool that can malfunction or be used carelessly and wind up harming patients. Staff should be reminded to be familiar with each stapler device that may be used, ensure the staple cartridges and stapler used are compatible, and that the stapler is positioned correctly.
  9. Ferromagnetic objects when MRIs are being taken. This is another easily preventable error. Staff must check the room for items such as wheelchairs and even personal objects that can become flying projectiles around the MR device. Similarly, patients must be thoroughly screened for implanted devices that may be magnetic. (Remember: Patients won’t always know how many implants they have or what material they are made of.)
  10. Fiberoptic light-source burns. Touted as “cold” light sources, fiberoptic lights used on endoscopes, headlamps and other devices do indeed give off heat. If left on a patient without shutting off the light source, even an LED can cause a serious burn. If connected incorrectly, the lights can overheat and catch fire.

Download ECRI’s entire report here.

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