Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Ventilators and Mistakes in the Time of the Coronavirus

Posted by Briggs Bedigian | Mar 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

Ventilators can cause injury under a number of circumstances. In fact, they can even cause death. Ventilators, as you know, provide oxygen to patients who cannot breathe on their own. This oxygen is vital and saves lives when the ventilators are used properly. When they aren't used timely or when they are used improperly, brain damage or death can result. It could be a case of medical malpractice. The most common causes of ventilator medical malpractice are discussed below.

The causes for ventilator mistakes are important to keep in mind, too, especially while we are in the midst of a nationwide emergency health crisis due to the coronavirus. Many patients sick with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, require ventilators to breathe. The virus causes respiratory infection, and, according to webmd.com, one in four persons sick with COVID-19 will need a ventilator to help them breathe. But this statistic can change—and likely will—as the virus spreads.

Common Reasons Patients are Injured or Die Due to Ventilator Mistakes

Hypoxic brain injuries or death can occur when mistakes are made with regard to ventilators. These are the top situations that lead to mistakes that can often be reduced down to medical negligence.

Mistake No. 1: Failure to Promptly Identify & Treat

A common mistake occurs when medical professionals fail to promptly identify the need for a ventilator and treat it. Failure to promptly treat a person experiencing difficulty breathing,  impending respiratory failure, respiratory failure, or respiratory arrest is often due to medical negligence.

Mistake No. 2: Failure to Properly & Timely Treat

Assessing the patient and placement of the patient when the ventilator is attached are essential. Proper use and administration of a ventilator are important because, for example, breathing tubes can slip out unnoticed. Proper treatment also includes leaving the endotracheal tube in for a certain time because premature removal can cause medical problems for the patient.

Further, if treatment is not timely, then a person experiencing difficulty breathing or impending respiratory failure may then experience respiratory failure. Delayed intubation can also lead to airway loss, especially if the patient was already at high risk of losing his or her airway. 

Mistake No. 3: Equipment Issues

Ventilators must be maintained and checked on a regular basis. Medical professionals cannot risk equipment failure or problems with tubes. Equipment issues can lead to delays which can lead to the health problems mentioned above.

One Additional Reason Patients May Be Injured or Die When a Ventilator is Needed

Today, with the coronavirus causing havoc in hospitals across the nation, one of the biggest concerns and fears is the absolute lack of enough ventilators. This may not necessarily mean medical negligence because of the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus. It does, however, mean that a higher risk of any of the above mistakes occurring is exacerbated. Potentially adding more risk, some hospitals—like those in New York flooded with COVID-19 patients—have started sharing ventilators. This can lead to unknown errors, and the question will become: who is liable if a ventilator error occurs and someone is harmed or dies because of it?

If you or a loved one suffers from the coronavirus, get help as soon as you experience any breathing problems. These cases, fortunately, are less likely to occur, but they are occurring in enough numbers to induce fear. Stay calm. Take the precautions necessary. And get medical attention when appropriate. 

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm's litigation practice.  Briggs' legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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