Doctors are putting surgical patients at unnecessary risk by providing blood transfusions that are not needed, according to the latest study. The study, published in the journal Anesthesiology, was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins.
Providing a transfusion during surgery may seem like a neutral action – how can supplementing a patient’s blood supply be a problem? The reality, however, is far more complex. Several studies have now shown that patients who receive transfusions during surgery do not, in fact, fare better than patients who do not.
Indeed, many patients who receive a transfusion fare worse than patients who do not. When a patient receives a transfusion, there is always the risk that his body will develop an immune response to the new blood. That is because the blood is, to his body, a foreign substance. The reaction itself can cause illness or injury in the patient. It can also reduce the body’s ability to fight off true pathogens, raising the risk of harmful or fatal post-surgical infection. Depending on the circumstances, these reactions can be an unfortunate, but unavoidable, complication of surgery, or the result of medical malpractice.
However, studies have now shown that, except in cases of trauma or hemorrhage, it is better to wait before transfusing. Instead, surgeons should monitor the patient’s hemoglobin levels – and wait to transfuse until levels fall below a certain point, even if there is blood loss during surgery.
One reason that patients are receiving these unnecessary transfusions is that there are no clear guidelines as to when transfusions should be given during surgery – no major medical group has yet established a set of rules for surgeons to follow. This lack, however, does not excuse American surgeons’ failure to follow the best practices with regard to transfusions during surgery.
That is because another startling aspect of this problem is that the Johns Hopkins study is not the first to reveal the problem. In fact, for five years, various studies have shown that surgeons should be giving less blood than they are. Indeed, the research on this question is now so well-developed that last year a federal committee, operating out of the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that surgeons in the U.S. were providing excessive transfusions, endangering surgical patients – and raising costs. In fact, giving routine blood transfusions may constitute medical malpractice.
This is because surgeons have thus been adequately informed for well over a year, if not several years, that blood transfusions during surgery should be limited, and used only as needed. Yet they continue to give routine transfusions as a matter of course in every surgery, leaving patients at risk of reaction and infection.
In addition to the threat to patients receiving transfusions, these unnecessary procedures may be harming other patients, as well. Despite blood drives and other efforts, blood remains a scarce resource, particularly in certain areas. And collecting, testing, and maintaining a blood supply is an expensive endeavor. Thus, unnecessary transfusions may be harming other patients by reducing the available supply, and raising costs for those who do require blood.
If you or a loved one have suffered a reaction or infection following a surgical procedure where a blood transfusion was given, your surgeon’s negligence in providing the transfusion itself may be to blame. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you to determine whether negligence was to blame in your case, and whether you may have legal recourse.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.