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Tag: TPN

Did Nine Patients Have to Die?

Recently, nine patients died in Alabama when they received intravenous nutrition that was contaminated with deadly bacteria. This type of nutrition is called total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, and is used to nourish patients by vein when their digestive systems are not functioning properly. It is a milestone achievement in medicine and saves and maintains lives every day.

What went wrong? How did an instrument of healing become death by lethal injection? What is the lesson that can emerge from this unimaginable horror?

This tragedy represents that most feared ‘never event’ that can ever occur – death by friendly fire. No survivors. Contrast this with many other medical ‘never events’ as defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, such as post-operative infections, development of bed sores in the hospital or wrong-site surgery. Under the ‘never events’ program, hospitals will be financially penalized if a listed event occurs. Many physicians and hospitals are concerned that there will be a ‘never events’ mission creep with new outcomes added to the list that don’t belong there. Medical complications, which are unavoidable, may soon be defined as ‘never events’.

Do we need a new category of ‘never ever ever events’ to include those that lead to fatal outcomes?

The facts of the Alabama deaths have started to emerge.  Apparently, a water faucet in the pharmacy was contaminated. Protocols and processes are violated every day in all spheres of professional life; and we usually get away with them. The absence of serious consequences breeds complacency, which is shattered by an occasional tragedy. Isn’t it after a horrible traffic accident that a local government decides to erect street lights that were requested by local residents for years? I read earlier today that the Federal Aviation Administration is requiring extensive inspections of a few hundred airplanes when small cracks were discovered in a few of them. This followed a near disaster when a 5 foot hole burst open in the roof of an airplane during flight. The plane landed and all survived. Of course, a very different outcome was possible.

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