FDA investigates operating room fires in U.S. hospitals

After a series of operating room accidents that have involved patients catching on fire, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working to find a solution to decrease the risk of surgical errors that can lead to fires in the operating room, jeopardizing patient safety.

Although operating room fires are preventable, they still occur in Illinois hospitals and other hospitals throughout the nation. In one operating room in the U.S., a recent patient recalls his experience as he was just going under anesthesia. He remembers hearing a nurse yelling that he had caught on fire. He could even smell his skin burning.

The 68-year-old man ended up suffering major burns to his upper body.

The man had been in surgery to receive a pacemaker at a Florida hospital. Instead, he left the operation with second-degree burns on his shoulders, chest and neck. After filing a lawsuit, it was determined earlier this month that the hospital will be held accountable for the man’s injuries. According to reports, a jury will decide the damages that are to be owed to the patient for his injuries.

Although operating room fires are relatively rare compared to other medical mistakes, they can cause serious injuries including burns, disfigurement and death. Equipment is also damaged, and employees and patients live with traumatic and emotional consequences.

The FDA estimates that about 600 surgical fires happen throughout the country on an annual basis. To help reduce the occurrences of these preventable errors, the agency has launched a new safety initiative to educate medical professionals about this problem and how to prevent these fires from occurring in the operating room.

Three factors are present when a surgical fire occurs: an oxidizer, an ignition source and a fuel. These three things are usually present in operating rooms. For example, patients might have oxygen masks on, alcohol swabs might be used to clean and sanitize operating sites, and some surgical tools could produce a spark when in use. When medical professionals do not understand how these items could be hazardous, patients could be in serious danger.

Source: kypost.com, “FDA focusing on patients catching fire in operating rooms,” Aisling Swift, June 12, 2012

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