Low Blood Shortage Leading to Postponed Surgeries

Low Blood Shortage Leading to Postponed SurgeriesOne negative effect of the coronavirus pandemic is that blood centers across the U.S. have been suffering from a blood shortage. This is due in large part to the shutdown of centers where blood drives traditionally take place, such as religious organizations, movie theater drives, and festivals.

One blood bank in particular that has been trying to maintain throughout the blood shortage is OneBlood, a blood bank in Florida that has been down to a one-day supply of blood. As a result, hospitals are now being placed in an awkward position of postponing surgeries.

And they’re not the only ones. New Jersey is in the midst of its largest blood shortage in decades. Sally Wells, the blood services business development liaison at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, said it’s the worst she’s ever seen:

The most frightening part about (this) entire shortage is that we don’t see any end in sight … Nationally, the large blood collection agencies, like the American Red Cross, like the New York Blood Center and Vitalant, are saying that they are seeing patterns that indicate to them for the first time in many, many, many years — probably 35 or 40 years — that tells them that this could be a problem for many months to come.

Despite the nationwide blood shortage, New Jersey hospitals have not yet had to reschedule surgeries, which is good news. The blood shortage is a tough dilemma for the hospitals to be in, but the situation is even more grave and deadly for the patients awaiting surgery. Postponing a surgery could be a matter between life and death for some, if not all patients. Postponing a surgery is also an example of a form of  medical malpractice known as a delayed treatment.

What is a delay in treatment?

A delay in treatment occurs when a patient fails to receive medical treatment that had been requested by a doctor or nurse in the period in which it was supposed to be administered. If a patient fails to receive medication, a lab test, a physical therapy treatment, or any kind of treatment, that would classify as a delay in treatment. Failing to get an initial appointment or follow-up appointment in a timely manner would also classify as a delay in treatment. It is considered a diagnostic error that can result in severe harm for a patient, or death in some cases.

What causes delayed treatment?

Delayed treatment can be caused by several factors:

  • Inadequate assessments
  • Poor planning
  • Communication failures
  • Liability and/or negligence
  • Lapses in accountability
  • System issues (understaffing, poor scheduling software, inadequate communication)
  • Cognitive issues
  • Other human errors

When is a delay in treatment an act of medical negligence?

Health care professionals have a professional duty of care to their patients. Delayed treatment is one example of how health care professionals fail to provide an adequate standard of care to their patients. When a health care professional’s actions, or lack thereof, fall below the “medical standard of care,” it is possible that medical negligence has taken place. Medical negligence is an act of omission by a medical professional that deviates from the accepted medical standard of care. If a health care professional’s negligence is the cause of harm to a patient, that patient may have a strong case against that health care professional for medical malpractice in a court of law.

The “medical standard of care” refers to the level and type of care that a competent and skilled health care professional would provide a patient under similar circumstances. This standard would be applied by health care professionals with the same background in the same industry.

In the case of the blood shortage, making a medical malpractice claim could be trickier, because there is no blood to use. However, a person may be able to make a claim for negligence if:

  • The hospital failed to procure more blood when it was available.
  • The supply at the medical facility was damaged in some way, making the supply unusable.
  • The staff or medical personnel did not seek alternative methods of helping a patient while waiting for blood to come in, such as scheduling a procedure at a different facility.
  • The hospital continues to schedule elective surgeries but postpones life-saving procedures.
  • Donated blood is not properly screened because of fear of running out, only for that blood to have pathogens, viruses, or other disqualifying organisms in it which can make people sick.

How can health care professionals make things safer for patients?

Despite the current debate of focusing on a more system-centric or physician-centric approach, all health care professionals should take a more active approach in preventing delayed treatment from happening to patients. While there are issues that are out of the health care professionals’ control, there are other issues such as misdiagnosis that the health care professionals can control.

Some of the actions that health care professionals can take include:

  • Improving the health information technology at their offices
  • Adding diagnostic checklists to electronic records
  • Advocating for better communication between medical providers
  • Requesting that attention be placed on the scheduling software used in the office
  • Ordering tests in a timely manner
  • Reporting test results to other providers and patients quickly
  • Creating and utilizing a standardized method for communication
  • Keeping staff at an adequate level
  • Increasing engagement with patients and their family

If you or your loved one has been a victim of delayed treatment, the New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP can provide you with experienced legal representation. We hold negligent hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals responsible for medical malpractice and the harm it has inflicted on our clients. Call one of our offices in Edison, Red Bank, or Toms River at 732-777-0100, or complete a contact form on our website to schedule a consultation.