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Poor Label Design May Put Surgical Patients at Risk, Study Finds

When you undergo surgery, you put your trust in the anesthesiologist (or nurse anesthetist) to ensure that you do not feel any pain during the operation. Because this is a very technical area of medicine and requires several years of training, you may believe that if an error occurs, it wouldn't be an obvious one. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests, this is not always the case. The study found something as simple as the design of IV labels can greatly increase the risk of an anesthesia error.

About the Study

The study, recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety, involved 96 anesthesiology and nurse anesthetist students. The students were asked to complete a simulated surgical procedure. The procedure was based on a real life scenario where an IV bag of lidocaine (a pain reliever) was almost used on a patient instead of hetastarch (which prevents shock from blood loss). Fortunately, this mistake was caught in time, because it could have killed the patient.

For the study, the students performed two rounds of surgical procedures. During each round, a surgical cart was used containing IV bottles of lidocaine and hetastarch improperly stocked alongside one another in the same drawer. During the first round, IV bags with standard labeling were used. This type of labeling can make all IV bags look alike, as the text is printed on a transparent background, potentially making the actual label harder to read. However, for the second round, bags with enhanced IV labels were used. The labeling on the second round of bags was printed on a dark, opaque background that made the text stand out more.

The simple change in label design had a significant effect on the performance of the students. During the first round with standard labeling, only 40 percent of the students chose the correct drug to use. However, during the second round, the use of the enhanced labels made it2.61 times more likely the students wouldchoose the correct drug.

Researchers hope the study's findings will persuade drug manufacturers to reconsider the design of their labels which, in turn, would lead to easier-to-read labeling and fewer avoidable errors.

Speak to an Attorney

Drug errors are only one of many types of anesthesia errors that can occur during an operation. Unfortunately, when anesthesia errors occur, the result is often tragic. Heart attacks, strokes, brain damage or coma can often afflict those that survive the error. Unfortunately, for others, the error is fatal. In many cases, the error rises to the level of medical malpractice, which may subject the medical provider to civil liability for the mistake.

If you suspect the presence of an error during a surgical procedure involving yourself or a loved one, it is important to consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Vital evidence of medical negligence can be lost by delay. An attorney can work with experts to determine the presence of an actionable error and work to seek appropriate compensation for your losses.

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