The prospect of surgery is enough to make many people nervous. But if you add possible illnesses or infections that are caused by doctors who use dirty surgical instruments, the situation is even more unnerving.
“Hospitals are really one of the most dangerous areas that you can be in,” says Joe Eaton of Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
CPI in February 2012 published a report that examined the use of poorly sterilized surgical instruments in operating rooms throughout the United States. In the report, researchers interviewed patients who underwent surgery that involved dirty tools and suffered repercussions and workers who sterilized tools to varying degrees. Eaton says the investigation began after he learned that Food and Drug Administration had discussed but hadn’t acted on the issue. He also spoke with a man who had more than 2 years of complications after doctors used unclean instruments to repair his torn rotator cuff.
Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009 admitted that 10,737 veterans in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee were given endoscopies or colonoscopies between 2002 and 2009 using tools that might have been cleaned improperly between procedures. An investigation at University of Michigan Health System in 2011 found that 350 suction tips that contained debris after “cleaning” were used in surgeries.
Unfortunately for consumers, Eaton says, no standards are in place to ensure that hospital equipment is cleaned to manufacturers’ specifications. Eaton says consumers who are worried about dirty surgical instruments should seek out a reputable hospital, but he concedes that the Texas hospital where his investigation began has a good reputation. Consumers can ask surgeons about the cleanliness of their operating instruments, but Eaton says there’s no guarantee that they will receive an honest answer.