The two people injured by surgical fires that we mentioned in a blog post last week are from being isolated cases. As our colleague at the Sarasota injury law firm Gerber Law Group, P.A., noted in a blog post about one of the surgical fires, there are approximately 650 fires in operating rooms around the country each year. Last month, MSNBC reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an initiative in October to prevent surgical fires, “noting that though these are rare events, they are also highly preventable.”
Karen Weiss, program director of the Safe Use Initiative in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, noted that “these fires are small in number compared to the millions of surgical procedures performed each year,” but also said the “FDA’s regulatory authority is not enough to prevent these accidents from happening.”
In an effort to reduce the risk of these fires, the FDA has recommended healthcare professionals carefully evaluate if the patient needs extra oxygen, prevent alcohol-based antiseptics from pooling during skin preparation and ensure that those alcohol-based antiseptics applied to the skin are completely dry before draping the patient. The agency also advises that when not in use, potential ignition sources such as electrosurgical tools should be placed in a holster and not on the patient or drapes.
While what happened to Kim Grice and Tommy Beams has called more attention to operating room fires, victims of these horrifying accidents are entitled to compensation for the injuries they suffered. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in May 2010 that three patients had been injured in six operating room fires at the Cleveland Clinic in the previous year, Chief Executive Dr. Toby Cosgrove told the Dealer that none of the cases involved “serious harm” and in no case did a patient sue the hospital.
If nobody is suing over these injuries, then why are healthcare professionals pushing legislation against medical malpractice lawsuits? By preventing hospitals from being held liable for the negligence that can lead to these types of accidents, what incentive do they have to improve the quality of the care they provide?