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A physician looks through equipment while he is performing a procedure or surgery.

What to Do When Equipment Fails

When a piece of equipment in your practice fails or malfunctions, it's important to know what steps to take next to ensure your patient's safety – and your own.

Imagine you’re in the middle of a procedure when the equipment you’re using malfunctions—what would you do? Blame it on the machine? Point the finger at the manufacturer? Chalk it up to operator error?

It seems reasonable to blame the manufacturer, but you might be surprised to learn that isn’t always the case when it comes to the equipment you’re using on the job. As the operator, you, too, might also be at fault.

Case in point: a Pennsylvania court recently found that a physician was 43% liable for injuries a patient sustained during brain surgery when the equipment he was using broke. That 43% amounted to $4.2 million in damages. The manufacturer was only found liable for 42% or $4.1 million and the hospital, only 15% or $1.5 million. 

Or, this case: a 35-year-old dental patient suffered burns on the inside of her mouth during a routine restoration. Despite findings that a malfunctioning handpiece caused the burn, an independent expert found that the dentist was ultimately responsible for the trauma. The patient settled the case for approximately $6,700.

What Do You Do if Your Equipment Malfunctions During Treatment?

In addition to routine maintenance and training, keep these practices in mind for when equipment fails:

  • Stabilize the patient to prevent further harm.
  • Remove the equipment from use, leaving it as much in the same condition as possible when the injury occurred.
  • Never return the piece of equipment to the manufacturer, allow the sales representative to take the equipment or attempt to repair it and don’t try to repair it yourself. Doing so, you may have just lost your ability to illustrate it was truly an equipment failure.
  • Secure the piece of equipment so it can be tested by an independent third party.
  • Take pictures of the equipment illustrating the defect if possible.
  • Contact a claims representative to obtain guidance as to necessary professional board and FDA reporting.
  • Document your records.
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