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How to Avoid Being a Victim of an Operating Room Fire

Written by Spencer Aronfeld on . Posted in Medical Malpractice

As a Florida anesthesia malpractice injury attorney, I was concerned by a recent FDA study that revealed that nearly 650 fires occur in United States operating rooms, during routine surgeries, every year. Often times, these fires can cause serious injury and disfigurement, and when the fire occurs in the patients airway, it can be fatal. In addition, there can be a profound psychological impact on the medical staff that is involved in a surgical fire.

Most agree that the root cause of surgical fires involves the use of supplemental high concentrations of oxygen, via an open delivery system, which creates an oxidized enriched atmosphere next to an ignition source, such as an electrosurgical unit or laser. This is referred to as the “Fire Triangle.”

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Since the FDA regulates many of the medical devices used in surgery, such as medical gases, skin preparation agents, electrosurgical units, and surgical drapes, they have undertaken initiatives to reduce the numbers of surgical fires. The FDA and the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation agree that anesthesia professionals can contribute to patient safety and minimize the risk of surgical fires. A Fire Prevention Algorithm has been suggested to be used, before surgeries, to assess the particular risk for specific patients undergoing specific surgeries.

As a lawyer, who sues doctors for operating room mistakes, I believe that the prevention of surgical fires in operating rooms is not just the responsibility of the anesthesiologist, but rather the responsibility of the surgical team. The surgical team consists of the surgeons, operating room nurses, and anesthesia professionals, who should work together to identify a patient’s risk and then minimize it. Accordingly, the “Universal Protocol,” which is used to confirm that the correct patient is receiving the appropriate procedure on the correct body part, needs to also include a risk assessment for a surgical fire.

In addition, hospitals and outpatient surgical centers should be equipped with the appropriate fire prevention tools, starting with an educational program to teach operating room personnel how to assess the risk for OR fires and understand how the risks can evolve as a surgery proceeds. Communication is the key, between the anesthesia provider and the surgeon on the other side of the drape, to understand the elements of the “Fire Triangle.” If a patient’s oxygen concentration needs change during an operation, the anesthesiologist and surgeon must communicate with each other to consider what the changes might mean in terms of a fire risk.

Our Broward County operating room injury lawyers believe that one of the primary reasons that surgery medical malpractice occurs is because of a lack of communication between the different members of the team, in regards to the overall care of the patient. A surgical fire check list is key to reduce the risk of fire in any healthcare facility. We recommend that before undergoing any operation you ask both your surgeon and anesthesiologist whether or not they have a surgical fire prevention protocol in place. It could just save your life.