Most have a strong confidence that the hospitals, medical centers, and clinics throughout Providence devote a lot of effort into making sure that their patients are treated in the most sterile environment possible. The expectation is that standards are in place to ensure that every room is properly cleaned and every instrument is sterilized prior to use. Such expectations may seem like a “no-brainer,” yet the truth behind those standards is that they were often created as a result of past surgical errors. Even with the strictest protocols in place, there’s still nothing that can prevent human error from causing such a standard to not be met again.
A group of 18 patients recently treated at a North Carolina medical center appear to be the victims of such an error. Each was informed that they were exposed to a deadly brain disease during their recent surgeries. Hospital officials confirmed that instruments used on a patient that was later found to have the disease weren’t properly sterilized following the procedure. The equipment in question continued to be used for the next 19 days before the error was finally uncovered. Hospital officials estimate that the chances of any of these patients actually developing the disease are remote. Yet that speculation does little to help assuage the stress and anxiety that bioethics experts agree these patients must be going through.