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Surgical Fires: How Concerned Should Patients Be?

Many people are surprised to learn that there are approximately 650 surgical fires each year. In addition, other fires start but are put out before they reach the patient. Even more alarming, surgical fires can be potentially life threatening.

Surgical fires do not have to happen and can be avoided with proper precautions and communication by the surgical team. Therefore, when they do occur, a medical malpractice lawsuit is often warranted.

How Do Surgical Fires Happen?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, fires can occur when the following come together:

  • Oxidizer: Gases used during surgery, such as oxygen and nitrous oxide, and room air
  • Fuel: Flammable objects, including surgical drapes, alcohol-based skin preparations, airway tubing, and even the patient’s hair or body
  • Heat: Tools such as electrosurgical (tissue-cutting) tools, lasers, fiber-optic lights and cables that can generate heat or sparks and cause a fire

What Should Health Professional Do to Prevent Surgical Fires?

The FDA recommends that healthcare professionals take the following actions:

  • Carefully evaluate if the patient needs extra oxygen.
  • Prevent alcohol-based antiseptics from pooling during skin preparation.
  • Ensure that alcohol-based antiseptics applied to the skin are completely dry before draping the patient.
  • When not in use, place potential ignition sources (such as electrosurgical tools) in a holster and not on the patient or drapes.
  • Strive for good communication among all members of the surgical team
  • Practice fire drills so that everyone is aware of roles and responsibilities in the event of a surgical fire.

What Can Patients Do to Protect Themselves?

To reduce the risk of surgical fire, patients should ask if the staff is trained in preventing, recognizing. and putting out surgical fires. For instance, what precautions do they have in place to protect patients? Will water and CO2 fire extinguishers be readily available in the OR?

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a surgical fire or other medical error, don’t hesitate to contact a San medical negligence attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.