This case concerns a patient who was admitted to a VA Hospital because he had poorly controlled diabetes and had persistent arm and leg weakness. An initial examination showed that the patient’s blood sugar was dangerously high and he was given intravenous fluids through a needle in his left hand. When the IV fluids were discontinued, the treating physician maintained the needle in the patient’s hand through a heparin lock. The patient’s blood sugar stabilized and he was discharged from the hospital. When it was time to discharge him, the staff found the patient lying unconscious in his room with a body temperature of 102° and his hand was very red and swollen around the IV site. The patient was readmitted to the hospital and he later developed an abscess at the IV site. The abscess was drained and the patient was discharged from the hospital. The patient sued the hospital claiming that they were negligent in failing to treat an infection in his hand and this caused the abscess.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Can a patient sue a hospital if the hospital staff uses an IV on the patient’s hand and this causes an infection and an abscess?
Expert Witness Response
A heparin lock is used in cases where doctors wish to temporarily stop the flow of IV fluids to a patient. It involves placing a cap on the open end of an IV needle and removing the associated tube and bag. This case involves the standard of care that hospital staff must meet when there is the risk of an infection from IV needle use. In these types of cases, hospital staff must exercise due care to protect the patient against an infection at the IV needle site. This type of care involves cleansing the proposed IV needle site, using a sterile needle, dressing the site with sterile gauze, and changing the needle after 3 to 5 days of use. Hospital staff must also check for signs of infection at the IV needle site. This means that hospital staff must check to see if any redness or swelling develops at the IV needle site and must report this to the treating physician to meet the proper standard of care. Since it is reasonably foreseeable that a patient might develop an infection at an IV needle site, the hospital staff in this case should have checked for signs of an infection in order to meet the proper standard of care.
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