Say you go in to the hospital for treatment that requires you to use a feeding tube. However, the nurse administering it accidentally hooks up your liquid-food bag to a tube feeding into a vein. As Gardiner Harris reports in The New York Times, feeding such food into the bloodstream is like “pouring concrete down a drain.”
This happens, but no one knows for sure how often. The woman in Harris’ story passed away following the nurse’s mistake.
It is estimated that hundreds of deaths and serious injuries occur due to tube errors at hospitals. There is no specific number on hand because, for the most part, these errors are not reported. It could very well be much more common.
While no hard numbers are readily available, a 2006 study did report that 16 percent of hospitals admitted to feeding tube mix-ups. Even more concerning is the fact that this is not even close to a new problem.
For the past 14 years, advocates for safer hospitals have pushed to have tubes serving different needs (e.g. tubes delivering food to the stomach and tubes delivering medicine to the bloodstream) be incompatible with one another, to wit, impossible to confuse.
However, medical device manufacturers have resisted any sort of change to an already profitable endeavor and the Food and Drug Administration has dragged its feet through the approval process.
Meanwhile, hospital patients continue to suffer injury or worse as a result of hospital negligence.