Intensive Care Unit Mistakes & Negligence in New Jersey
Dedicated ICU Malpractice Lawyers Seeking the Compensation You Deserve
A place that you can feel assured will give you breath when you cannot breathe, blood when you’re bleeding, and life-giving technology when your body is failing, the ICU, or intensive care unit, is an important piece of the whole healthcare puzzle. There, critical care is administered 24 hours a day to seriously ill patients facing life-threatening conditions. More specifically, an ICU is where people go when they need highly skilled medical professionals who can carefully monitor patients with serious illnesses or injuries. For these purposes, the ICU contains life-saving devices and special equipment to monitor vital signs and sustain life at its most delicate and critical stages. And yet, the most specialized doctors and medical staff housed in intensive care units still make mistakes that often cause their patients devastating injuries. Negligence in the ICU commonly leads to death as well, as the individuals who need treatment and monitoring for critical care conditions are extremely vulnerable as it is.
The premier medical malpractice lawyers at Fronzuto Law Group fight for justice and pursue maximum compensation on behalf of victims and their families dealing with the catastrophic consequences of intensive care unit mistakes. If ICU physicians and trained healthcare personnel caused you or a loved one injuries in New Jersey by failing to provide the care required of them, our team is thoroughly prepared to assist you with seeking damages. Contact us at 973-435-4551 to discuss your case today. We offer absolutely free consultations.
What the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Does
What happens inside of the hospital’s emergency care unit and the patients that are handled there defines the level of each unit. So, for example, level 1 ICU serves patients unsuited to a regular ward because they may need oxygen, more monitoring than they would get in a hospital room, and extra attentive nursing care, whereas a level 2 ICU offers patients with more serious conditions the more invasive monitoring systems and life support they may need temporarily. The highest-level ICU has everything: all types of monitoring and life support devices for long and short-term life support. At this highly resourced level, the ICU also serves as a teaching and resource center for other ICU’s or the healthcare system, generally.
The type of ICU and available treatments suitable to each patient depend on the condition that brought them to the hospital or their age. For instance, babies with serious conditions go to the neonatal ICU, while older children go to the Pediatric ICU. Those with unstable neurological conditions go to the Neurological ICU, and patients with instability due to heart problems or recent surgery have their own ICU’s, the CCU and SICU.
While it is typically understood to be a limited space amidst the many departments housed in a hospital, the ICU’s true function is greater in scope. In fact, the intensive care unit and its related services touch emergency departments, individual hospital rooms, and other facilities handling outpatient follow up.
Many Conditions Require Treatment in the Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit
ICU personnel treat patients with a range of life-threatening illnesses, injuries, and conditions, including:
- Organ failure
- Heart attacks
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Accident injuries and other catastrophic injuries
- Respiratory problems
- Extensive bleeding
- Dangerous infections
- Premature infants with injuries and conditions
- Terminal illnesses
- Chronic illnesses
- Major surgery recovery
People with these serious conditions may be unstable, with illnesses or conditions that may suddenly worsen, so they need constant monitoring and other critical medications and devices to breathe, pump their hearts, or otherwise keep them alive. Life-saving equipment includes feeding tubes, catheters, dialysis machines, oxygen dispensers, intravenous tubes, ventilators, breathing tubes, and monitoring equipment that reads and tracks vital signs.
Treatments and Therapies Available in the ICU
With the variability among conditions that bring patients to the intensive care unit, from serious to deadly, therapeutic treatments available within the ICU include: tracheostomy (breathing tube insertion), arterial catheterization for ongoing blood pressure monitoring, chest tube insertion to drain air or fluid from the lungs, ventilation to provide air to the lungs which pump oxygen to the rest of the body, central venous catheterization (commonly referred to as central lines) to pump medications into major veins, chest tube thoracostomy for chest and lung drainage.
Any kind of care that requires extra vigilance when compared to the regular hospital ward is handled in the ICU. Not only for instability due to accident, injury, or disease, but for medical therapeutic treatment like dialysis and medication adjustments for certain conditions, like patients susceptible to dehydration. Nurses can keep minute by minute track of their vitals and medicinal needs, such as sodium and electrolytes, by the physical layout of the ICU, with its monitors visible inside and outside of partially open rooms, and by the numerous nurses on staff. Specialized doctors typically work at specialized ICU’s, such as cardiologists at cardiac ICU’s. Since the ICU is a place where emergency procedures may need to be performed on the spot, the environment must be sterile, which means visitors may be restricted from coming to the ICU, either somewhat in terms of who can visit and when, or altogether, depending on the situation.
Common Problems in the ICU
Infections happen from Contaminated Equipment in the ICU
While ICU equipment is vital to survival, it may also be the source of a serious infection. Machines and devices can be contaminated and spread infection, requiring additional treatment and therapies, and a prolonged ICU stay for patients looking to be transferred to a non-emergency hospital ward or discharged from the hospital. The risk of infection to seriously ill patients may endanger their lives in addition to the condition that brought them to the ICU in the first place, so ICU doctors and other medical professionals cannot make mistakes with hygiene and sanitization procedures. Given the types of patients and treatments handled there, the ICU must have strict protocols to avoid further injuring patients. In fact, if a patient dies from a hospital infection due to negligent handling of equipment, the ICU and the providers handling the case may be held liable for medical malpractice.
While most patients do not know they will end up at the ICU, others do. In order to be more prepared for the stay, some patients with known life-threatening conditions can ensure that their wishes for care, resuscitation, and life-support devices are respected in their advanced health care documents or living wills. Doctors who do not respect the wishes contained in a written document may be liable to the patient or their family for injury that results from treatment. Doctors may also be liable for diagnostic and treatment errors, which occur more frequently among the critically ill.
Medication Mistakes in the ICU
Medication errors are the second leading malpractice cause and prescribing the incorrect medication or combination of medications can lead to severe injury or death. Instead of knee-jerk responses to vitals and conditions, doctors need to fully assess a patient’s medical history, prior treatments, and condition before prescribing medications. All medication must be targeted to the individual patient, which may take exploring causes for the condition. For example, doctors who choose the wrong device to help a patient breathe or resort to medications to boost blood pressure, when there are other reasons for low blood pressure like adequate hydration, may make errors that cause serious harm. Choosing the proper medicine may require more time and attention that a physician dedicates to it and some complex cases require consulting with other specialists to accurately ascertain the root of the issue.
Diagnostic and Treatment Errors in Intensive Care Units
By far the most common error at the ICU is diagnostic error. Over 25% of ICU patients die due to misdiagnosis or for unknown medical problems. True, the ICU is a fast-paced, fractured medical environment where doctors receive disjointed bits and pieces of information in a bustling environment, but that is even more reason for ICU medical professionals to be extraordinarily vigilant and cautious to avoid missing details that lead to misdiagnosis. The most common misdiagnoses occur with heart attack patients who have symptoms that are often confused with harmless conditions like heartburn, or more serious ones like gallbladder problems or lung clots. Heart attack signs are often subtle, but there are tests that can be administered to confirm heart muscle damage. Another commonly misdiagnosed condition is pulmonary embolism. Patients with blocked arteries affecting the lungs cannot breathe and they may be coughing and experiencing chest pain, which are easily confused as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, or heart attack. CT scans and blood thinners can help to accurately diagnose and treat this condition.
Likewise, pneumonia is frequently confused with asthma or tuberculosis, which can be verified by chest x-ray, CT scan, physical examination, and oximeter, an oxygen level reader. And infections or allergies from fungus can cause symptoms like asthma, tuberculosis, or pneumonia. Testing blood, skin, and saliva can detect a fungus, and antifungal medications treat this. One of the most misdiagnosed conditions, however, is internal bleeding, which is marked by a steep, unexplained drop in blood pressure. The patient may be weak or vomiting and complain of bloody stools. Given that many patients come to the ICU with low blood pressure and weakness, abdominal bleeding is often overlooked. Getting a red blood cell count or anemia test can detect the condition, and doctors can use heat, electricity, or surgery to stem the hemorrhaging.
Other instances of physician error may be in delaying treatment, such as waiting too long to intubate. Choosing the wrong method of oxygen therapy that causes a patient to choke on their own saliva is another example of ICU negligence that may occur. Other sources of error are miscommunication between treating doctors or not communicating with specialists, outpatient doctors, treatment therapists, and all other healthcare providers involved in a patient’s treatment and recovery. Even at discharge to the regular hospital ward as well as in the ICU, doctors need to personally consult with those handling the patient at all levels to prevent miscommunication and key things that may fall through the cracks.
We Help those Injured by Errors in New Jersey ICUs
If you came out of the ICU worse off than when you went in, you may have a malpractice claim against the hospital and treating doctors. Getting advice from a medical malpractice attorney can help you understand how medical professionals, and especially specialists, must practice at a standard expected of them by their peers and medical boards and associations. If they fail to do so, the legal team at Fronzuto Law Group can collaborate with medical experts in the analysis and construction of your most compelling claim for damages. Do not suffer tragic losses without compensation if negligence in the ICU left you or a loved one with complications or proved fatal. Contact our New Jersey ICU malpractice lawyers to seek the compensation you deserve for missed or misdiagnosis, failure to monitor, or improper medical treatment in the hospital’s critical care unit. You can reach us anytime at 973-435-4551 for a cost-free consultation.