ECRI Blog

4 Ways to Prevent Harm from Surgical Staplers

If you’ve been following medical device safety issues this year, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the headlines about patient injuries and deaths related to internal surgical staplers. The devices are commonly used in many high-risk surgical procedures. Misuse and malfunction of surgical staplers can lead to serious complications—as we’ve seen during our own research and accident investigations.

The stapler cases we investigate tend to be associated with serious injuries or fatalities, some of which could have been prevented. The overall adverse event rate is low relative to the number of times staplers are used; however, cases of preventable death are chilling. This has led ECRI Institute to thoroughly research and evaluate staplers and to publish safety hazards to our members. In fact, surgical staplers have appeared twice on our annual list of Top 10 Health Technology Hazards— first in 2010 and again in 2017.

So, why is this decades-old technology in the news now? And, more importantly, what can you do to keep patients safe?

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Topics: Health Devices, Patient Safety, Accident Investigation

Avoiding the Blame Game in Preventing Medical Errors

In late 2017, a catastrophic medication error led to a patient death at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. While waiting for a PET scan, an elderly woman was incorrectly administered vecuronium, a paralyzing neuromuscular blocker, rather than the prescribed sedative Versed. It was reported that, because vecuronium suppresses normal respiration and the patient was left unattended while waiting for the test, she suffered cardiopulmonary arrest. Although she was resuscitated, it was too late to prevent brain death, and she was later removed from life support.

This case was widely reported in the media as an example of preventable medical errors that injure or kill too many patients, despite our efforts to make healthcare safer. As we reach the 20-year anniversary of To Err Is Human, the landmark Institute of Medicine report that crystalized the patient safety movement in the U.S., we must humble ourselves with the knowledge that while we’ve made many improvements, there is still much more work to do.

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Topics: Patient Safety

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