People go to hospitals for treatment when they are in need of specialized medical attention or emergent medical care.
Naturally, one hopes to leave the hospital in better health than when he or she arrives. But a medical or hospital error resulting in a hospital acquired infection that is unrelated to the reason for the patient’s admission can have drastic consequences on the patient’s health. A 2011 survey of acute care hospitals in the United States that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that, on any given day, about 1 in 25 hospital patients acquires a hospital-associated infection (PDF document).
Implementing measures to prevent hospital infections is one important aspect of patient health and safety. Studies have shown that hospital infection rates can be significantly reduced by requiring hospital staff members to follow a simple checklist of “best practices.” For example, bloodstream infections from central lines dropped 44% between 2008 and 2012 once hospitals were required to follow simple guidelines.
Recognizing, and promptly treating, infections when symptoms present are also important patient health and safety measures. Certain symptoms should alert any physician or nurse of the possibility of an infection. If recognized early, for the most part, infections can be treated and controlled by the administration of antibiotics.
Surgical Site Infections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, surgical site infections are among the most common types of hospital acquired infections. Surgical site infections, for example, occur in the region of the body where surgery took place, and can involve the skin, underlying tissue, organs, bones, and implanted materials. The consequences can be severe if the surgical site infection is left untreated, including disfigurement, loss of an organ/limb, and even death.
Telltale symptoms of surgical site infections include:
- Redness and pain in or around the area of the operation;
- Drainage of cloudy fluid from the surgical wound; and/or
Timely treatment of an infected surgical site is important to increase a patient’s opportunity for full recovery. Patients, and/or their loved ones, should notify medical professionals of any signs or symptoms of infection, paying particular attention to any changes in skin color, blood, drainage, and pain that the patient experiences at, or around, the surgical site. To assist their treating physicians, patients should keep a journal documenting their recovery from surgery, and if at all possible, have friends, family members, and/or medical professionals take pictures of the patient’s surgical site until all surgical wounds have healed.
Hospital Acquired Pneumonia
Hospital acquired pneumonia is a bacterial infection occurring in patients who are hospitalized for another medical condition. Patients who are on a ventilator or respirator– breathing machines—are at a higher risk for this type of infection due to the presence of bacteria inside of the tubes connecting the machine to the patient. On occasion, hospital acquired pneumonia can be life-threatening, and can result in long-term lung damage.
The incidence of hospital acquired pneumonia can be lessened by hospital staff washing their hands, wearing gowns, and following other simple precautionary measures. Medical professionals can detect pneumonia upon physical examination, chest x-ray, CT scan of the patient’s chest, and/or a blood test. Treatment may vary based on the patient’s age and health.
Be aware of the symptoms of pneumonia. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of hospital acquired pneumonia may include, but are not limited to:
- Change in mental state, e.g. confusion;
- Cough with colored phlegm;
- Fever and chills;
- Shortness of breath;
- General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased blood pressure and high heart rate; and
- Sharp chest pain.
Lawsuits Arising out of Hospital Acquired Infections
Medical professionals owe patients a duty to provide care that meets the standard of medical care in their respective fields of medicine. When a medical professional fails to provide such care, and this careless conduct results in a hospital acquired infection, serious injury to the patient often occurs. Hospitals and medical centers can be held responsible for the negligence of their employees and/or for their own conduct or omissions. For example, a hospital can be held responsible for failing to adopt policies and procedures that minimize the likelihood of infection.
When a patient is injured as a result of a hospital acquired infection, the hospital will normally undertake a confidential, internal investigation. The patient should retain an attorney to conduct an independent investigation to uncover the nature and extent of any breaches in accepted standards of care. A medical malpractice attorney will investigate the care that the patient received, as well as the cause of the patient’s medical injury, without filing a lawsuit, and at no expense to the patient. If it is determined that there is a valid basis for pursuing a malpractice lawsuit, the attorney will consult with a well-credentialed medical professional to obtain a Certificate of Merit and file a lawsuit with the Court.
It is important, however, to keep in mind that medical malpractice lawsuits in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are subject to a 2 year statute of limitations. This means that victims who suffer from a hospital acquired infection have 2 years from the date of their medical injury to bring a lawsuit against the at-fault parties. Given the 2 year time limitation, it is important to contact an attorney to begin the investigation as soon as possible because your attorney will need time to review your medical records and consult with qualified medical experts about your case.