A young woman was admitted to a hospital with a severe case of strep throat. The next morning she was dead. How did this happen? A recent article about the dangers of patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps has highlighted Amanda's story.
A PCA pump is designed to give patients a dose of opioid pain medication at the push of a button. The patient controls when the medication is administered, although the dose is controlled by a nurse or doctor. In Amanda's case, she may have received a dose that was too powerful, sending her oxygen-deprived system into cardiac arrest.
There are doctors on both sides of the issue surrounding PCA pumps. Some argue that it gives a greater degree of control and relief to patients, while others argue that it isn't monitored well enough and patients are given the ability to medicate themselves to death. The biggest risk with the use of a PCA pump is an undetected respiratory depression, according to Dr. Frank Overdyk, a professor of anesthesiology:
"...the most serious adverse event is an undetected respiratory depression, which causes you to breathe more slowly and accumulate carbon dioxide. Then you get sedated, and you can go into cardiopulmonary arrest."
In other cases, doctors argue that there isn't enough monitoring of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in patients' blood. Nurses typically check every 4 hours, but doctors want more frequent visits to ensure patient safety. In any case, there are ways to protect yourself or your family if a PCA pump is to be used:
PCA Pump Tips
- Insist on pulse oximetry to monitor oxygen concentration in the blood, as low levels indicate a higher risk of respiratory depression.
- Watch for signs of overnarcatized patients: sleepiness, grogginess, snoring if the patient is asleep or startling awake while sleeping.
- Ask the doctors how the pumps work and what type of monitoring takes place. Stay informed.
PCA pump safety is important for any patient, parent or child, and should be taken seriously. If you encounter problems using a PCA pump or have another medical malpractice issue, please contact the Law Office of D. Hardison Wood for a free consultation and to learn your legal rights.