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Problems with Dialysis Procedures

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

For those with chronic renal disease, hemodialysis is the most common method used to treat kidney failure. For a half a century, medical professionals have attempted to make the process more effective; however, hemodialysis remains a complicated and inconvenient therapy. While the treatment requires input from dialysis nurses, technicians, nutritionists and nephrologists, successful treatment also rests on the safety and effectiveness of the equipment. Recently, a ProPublica investigation revealed that dialysis patients have a high death rate, and one of the major causes of death may be hemorrhage associated with needle dislodgment.

In hemodialysis, blood is specially filtered to eliminate waste and extra fluids as healthy kidneys would. The treatment is necessary for patients to maintain strong bones, balanced hormones and healthy blood pressure levels, as well as to remove harmful toxins from the body. The procedure starts with needle insertions, which carry blood to the dialyzer and return the filtered blood to the body.

According to ProPublica, American taxpayers spend more than $20 billion a year for the care of dialysis patients, but despite this tremendous cost, the U.S. has one of the highest mortality rates for dialysis care. One in five dialysis patients die each year. As part of its survey, ProPublica examined the 2002-2009 inspection records for more than 1,500 clinics in California, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, as well as regulatory and court records. The investigative group discovered that a number of patients die each year from hemorrhages during treatment.

The issue of needle dislodgement is a known risk, but may only happen in five percent of cases. Still, the consequences can be catastrophic. Extreme blood loss could lead to death and improper reinsertion procedures can lead to further blood contamination.

ProPublica uncovered countless dialysis horror stories, and human error is to blame in most cases. Improperly or inadequately trained technicians aren’t monitoring needle insertions or patients during the course of the treatment. Dialyzers are set at incorrect settings, which increase risks for needle dislodgements. Safety protocols are not adhered to in cases of patient injury.

Even with more government scrutiny and stricter federal regulations, many dialysis centers have failed to improve patient safety. Until these centers and their staff take patient care and safety more seriously, they will remain potentially liable for patient injuries and death.

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