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Indiana Personal Injury Attorneys Blog
Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia: A “Never Event”

In addition to battling their primary illnesses or conditions, hospital patients in intensive care often run the risk of contracting a variety of hospital-acquired infections, also referred to as nosocomial infections. According to an article in the Clinical Microbiology Review Journal, pneumonia, an infection in the lungs, is the second most prevalent nosocomial infection among patients already battling critical illnesses. Furthermore, 86% of patients who contract pneumonia in the hospital, do so as a result of the use of mechanical ventilators.

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP) can be a serious infection, especially for patients who are already in intensive care for a separate severe medical condition.

What is Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia?

A ventilator is a machine that helps patients breathe when they are very ill or recovering after major surgery. The ventilator delivers oxygen to the patient by use of a tube inserted in a patient's mouth, nose, or through a hole in the front of the throat. Though ventilators often save patients' lives when they cannot adequately breathe on their own, ventilators also increase the chances of germs reaching a patient's lungs. If germs get into the ventilator tube, the machine will deliver them directly to the patient's lungs, putting them at serious risk for lung infections such as pneumonia. 250,000-300,000 cases of Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia are reported each year in the United States, and though VAP can be treated by antibiotics, the mortality rate is as high as 50%.

How to Prevent VAP

The National Quality Forum has deemed death in a hospital due to use of a contaminated device, such as a ventilator, as one of the 29 “never events,” or an inexcusable healthcare action. That is, there is no justifiable excuse for it to ever happen. This is because contraction of VAP from a contaminated ventilator is wholly preventable if healthcare professionals take several simple safety precautions. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the basic things nurses and doctors can do to prevent Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia include:

  • Thoroughly sterilizing or replacing ventilator equipment between patient uses
  • Cleaning hands with an alcohol based sanitizer or soap before and after touching the ventilator or the patient
  • Regular cleansing of the patient's mouth or other ventilator insertion site to eliminate germs
  • If possible, keep the head of the patient's bed raised between 30-45 degrees
  • Regularly check to see if the patient is able to breathe on his own to avoid any unnecessary continued use of the ventilator.

Patients and their family members can also take steps to prevent contraction of VAP. First, because smokers are more susceptible to lung infections, patients who know they will have surgery and require the use of a ventilator should quit smoking as far in advance of the surgery as possible. Furthermore, while in the hospital, the patient and family members should do their best to ensure doctors and nurses follow the above steps to prevent contamination of the ventilator. Family members should not be shy about asking medical care providers to wash their hands, raise the head of the bed, and clean out the patients mouth, or regularly inquire about the patient's ability to breathe on his own.

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia is a “never event” because it is preventable. If you or a loved one contracted VAP, you may have a claim against the hospital and you should contact an experienced Indiana medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

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