What Can We Learn from How Doctors Took on Central Line Infection Fatalities?

December 21st, 2017 by Wapner Newman

Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Fatalities

When hospitals need to deliver medicine rapidly to a seriously ill patient, they may use a central line – a tube inserted into the heart. The medicine moves through the tube, and the heart pumps it throughout the body. This procedure can save lives, but it can also cause a central line infection, which in some cases can be fatal.

Around the year 2000, according to an article and podcast from Vox media, the prevailing opinion was that central line infections were unavoidable – an acceptable risk. But then a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, began to rethink how hospitals investigate central line infections.

A Catalyst for Change

The Vox media pieces on central line infections point out that when a plane crashes, and people die, federal investigators look at every detail of the crash to determine a cause. Often, these investigations result in regulatory changes or the creation of additional safety measures. Yet, with central line infections. very little attention was devoted to understanding how they occurred, until 16 years ago.

In 2001, following the death of an infant from a central line infection, Dr. Peter Pronovost and other Johns Hopkins doctors began to research the mechanisms of central line infections. They found The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended 90 ways to prevent these infections, but the CDC did not prioritize any of these methods in its 150-page advisory document. Pronovost and his colleagues sifted through the information, coming up with the five methods that were most effective, and posed the lowest risk to the patient, in preventing central line infections:

  • Wash hands using soap or alcohol prior to placing a catheter.
  • Wear sterile gloves, hat, mask and gown.
  • Completely cover the patient with sterile drapes, and avoid placing the catheter in the groin, if possible.
  • Clean the insertion site with chlorhexidine antiseptic solution.
  • Remove catheters when they are no longer needed.

To anyone outside the medical profession, those steps may seem so basic that it’s hard to understand why hospitals weren’t already doing this. One challenge that Pronovost found was that staff didn’t have all the materials they needed in one place, so in addition to adopting a formal procedural policy, staff had to be provided with readily accessible equipment.

After adopting the new protocol, central line infections fell by 50 percent within three months. And a study in 2006 found that in the 103 intensive care units that adopted Pronovost’s guidelines, infections fell by 70 percent in three months.

The Key Takeaway

Pronovost’s questioning of the status quo – his refusal to accept that central line infections are unavoidable – has saved countless lives in the past 16 years. Hospitals owe it to their patients to thoroughly investigate when patients suffer a life-threatening or fatal infection while hospitalized. Even when such incidents are rare, that doesn’t mean they don’t merit scrutiny.

If you have suffered an illness or injury during your hospital stay, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling (800) 529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.