It was a day you dreaded since you turned 50: your first colonoscopy. Because you understood the importance of this routine screening, you carefully followed your doctor’s instructions and endured the humiliating preparation.
While you don’t remember much of what happened after the nurse escorted you to the procedure room, you do recall the sense of relief at hearing the doctor tell you the test went well and your colon was clean. You probably went home satisfied that you had done something good for yourself.
Good intentions, bad results
What the doctor didn’t tell you is that the scope used to examine your colon was contaminated with microbes picked up from a previous patient. Although the staff routinely washed and disinfected the scope, the delicate nature of the instrument prohibited the use of intense heat necessary to destroy the bacteria.
Now you are fighting an infection. Perhaps your doctors are frantically trying one antibiotic after another because your infection is resistant. You are not alone. In the past five years, contaminated scopes infected more than 350 people. Thirty-five patients have died in the past three years.
How infection spreads
Doctors may screen and treat you using a variety of scopes. Because of their intricate designs, when scopes pick up any blood, tissue or microbes from inside a patient, those potentially disease-carrying contaminants are difficult to completely remove despite regular disinfection. The most commonly used scopes include:
- Colonoscopes: used to examine your large intestine
- Broncoscope: used to inspect your lungs and airways
- Gastroscope: used to see into your stomach
- Duodenoscope: inserted into your throat to treat digestive issues
Research shows that over 75 percent of gastroscopes and colonoscopes still harbor contamination even after medical facilities clean them according to manufacturers’ guidelines.
The solution doctors are reluctant to embrace
Recently, some smaller medical device manufacturers have developed disposable scopes. Your doctor can use these scopes once and then discard them, eliminating the risk that they would infect you with someone else’s bacteria. The scopes cost about $250 each, whereas it costs a medical facility more than $75 each time they clean a non-disposable scope.
While some doctors doubt that a disposable scope could give them the high quality images of traditional $40,000 machines, others feel there are circumstances for which the cheaper devices would be appropriate:
- Routine examinations
- Patients who have suppressed immune systems
- Patients who are already known to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria which could be transmitted to others
Still, hospitals may be reluctant to give up their expensive scopes for disposable ones. In fact, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy maintains that there is only a slight chance of getting sick from tainted scopes, and that the benefits of regular screenings outweigh the risks of infections.
You may beg to differ. Because of your infection, you may have endured hospital stays, countless tests and harsh medications, not to mention lost wages and the emotional stress for you and your family.
You are within your rights to seek legal help. An attorney will investigate your circumstances and determine if you have cause to file a medical malpractice claim. Such claims have two-fold benefits. They seek potential compensation for suffering people like you, and they bring about needed change by holding the manufacturer of medical devices responsible for equipment designs that lead to infections or injuries.