Just How Safe Are “Routine” Tests & Procedures?

Just How Safe Are “Routine” Tests & Procedures?

A six-month-old baby boy was recently admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital for a routine sleep study. Within an hour of starting the study, the baby suffered a fatal brain injury.

To read an account of that critical hour is equally incredibly frustrating and incredibly heartbreaking as hospital staff seemingly ignored the baby in medical distress and focused on what they wrongly thought was faulty equipment.

The equipment, however, was not faulty. It was displaying accurate readings of the baby’s vital signs, including that his oxygen levels were rapidly declining. Instead of checking the baby to confirm he was properly breathing, they just assumed the equipment was faulty and focused on fixing the equipment while ignoring the baby himself. By the time staff checked on him, the baby had been without oxygen for 20 minutes. He was placed on life support and subsequently declared brain dead. Twelve days later, his parents made the impossible decision to remove their only child from life support. He died in his mother’s arms.

How could this happen, and just how safe are we when we submit ourselves or our loved ones to what are described as “routine” tests or procedures?

In the sad instance of this 6-month-old baby boy, the test was necessary; however, a closer look at “routine” tests reveals that they can not only be risky, but not all are necessary. And for patients, not all tests are worth doing or are done too frequently, presenting more risk than potential good. That risk is not just confined to the test itself but subsequent interventions that may be undertaken that carry their own potential risks.

So, what can you do?

First, ask your doctor or provider questions about any tests or procedures they order. For example:

  • Why is it necessary?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there alternatives?

Second, trust your instincts. If something seems wrong during the routine test or procedure, speak up. In the instance of the baby boy at Boston Children’s Hospital, the mother was nearby during the test, but she rightfully placed her trust and the life of her baby in the hands of the medical professionals. In retrospect, she wished she would have stopped the test when she suspected something was off. When it comes to your or a loved one’s health, always trust your gut and say or do something.

While we do not know the number of times routine tests or procedures result in medical harm, it is safe to assume it happens more often than you would think. In the case of the 6-month-old baby boy, although a settlement was quickly reached with the hospital, his parents refused to sign the typical non-disclosure that would have prevented them from talking about what happened. Instead, they decided to share their heartbreak and the events leading up to it as a cautionary tale.

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About The Author

A seasoned trial attorney, Attorney Wickenheiser has advocated for victims and their families injured because of medical malpractice, nursing home death, pharmaceutical liability, and product liability. She focuses her practice on representing those who have suffered catastrophic injury and has successfully negotiated numerous settlements, many over a million dollars. She has received many prestigious awards and recognitions. Attorney Wickenheiser is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.