Can Patients Sue For Medical Equipment Failure?
Nearly every visit to the hospital or doctor’s office requires medical equipment. When medical equipment fails, serious complications can occur. Medical equipment failure ranges from hardware and technical issues to software coding issues. These issues include failure to sound an alarm in monitoring equipment and incorrect dosage speeds in equipment that administers medicine or fluids. Other medical equipment failure includes inconsistent values shown on display units, data loss, computer freezing and abrupt shutdown.
Types of Medical Equipment Failure
Today’s medical facility uses advanced diagnostic equipment to diagnose medical conditions and outline proper treatment strategies. Diagnostic equipment includes medical imaging devices such as MRI machines, CT and PET scanners, X-ray machines, and ultrasound. In many cases, diagnostic equipment performance can mean the difference between life and death. Diseases such as cancer often require early detection for survival. If diagnostic equipment fails to indicate signs of cancer, the patient can experience critical illness and preventable death.
When a patient is critically ill, many healthcare practitioners rely on monitors to keep track of patients and ensure stable vital parameters. A multitude of machines can be used to monitor a patient’s state, including cardiac conditions, blood pressure and blood flow, respiratory conditions, body temperature, and childbirth. Medical equipment failure of a monitoring device can lead to misdiagnosis or failure to treat threatening changes in a patient’s condition. In extreme cases such as a heart arrhythmia, this can lead to brain damage or death.
Artificial pacemakers are a necessity for patients who experience chronic issues with their body’s native pacemaker. Pacemakers use electrical impulses that contract the heart muscles. This consistent electrical contraction regulates the patient’s heartbeat. Pacemakers are typically used for long-term treatment. As pacemaker users are dependent on this device, failure to properly function is potentially fatal. A pacemaker that functions too quickly can cause tachycardia, or abnormally high heart rate. Medical equipment failure of a pacemaker that stops functioning can mean sudden death for the patient.
Defibrillators deliver electrical energy to a patient’s heart to restore the function of the body’s natural pacemaker. They are primarily used to treat cases of cardiac arrest and fibrillation, or rapid and irregular heart contractions. Due to the immediacy of an irregular cardiac condition, defibrillator failure can pose serious health risks. If a defibrillator delivers an incorrect amount of electricity, the heart can be damaged. Complete failure can result in death.
Medical Equipment Technology Errors
As medical equipment becomes more advanced, diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions rely more heavily on technology. However, medical equipment failure involving software glitches and vulnerabilities can pose serious threats. The Department of Veteran Affairs experienced a computer virus that infected the catheters. As a result, the machines were turned off and the patients were sent to a different hospital to continue their treatment.
In 2010, there was a nationwide Class I recall of infusion pumps due to wireless network errors. Under certain conditions, wireless network data transfer caused communication glitches that could freeze the machine’s PC unit. This medical equipment failure potentially caused a delay in the patient’s therapy, which posed the potential risk of serious injury or death.