The Risk and Consequences of Intubation Errors January 18, 2024.

The Risk and Consequences of Intubation Errors

Intubation stands as one of the most critical life saving procedures in healthcare and is used in nearly every specialty. But like all things medical, intubation isn't without risk. It demands precision, expertise, and has a low margin for error. When mistakes occur, patients can suffer extreme consequences.

Keep reading to learn about common intubation errors and how working with an experienced Cleveland medical malpractice attorney can help you recover after you or a loved one have been injured by a negligent healthcare provider.

Most Common Intubation Errors and Consequences

There are many possible outcomes of a problematic intubation, including but not limited to the following complications:

  1. Delayed intubation. This is the failure to intubate a patient quickly in an emergency scenario where oxygenation is crucial and can result in brain damage.
  2. Inadequate monitoring during intubation. Insufficient monitoring of a patient's vital signs during and after intubation can result in delayed diagnosis of complications like hypoxia, heart problems, and respiratory distress. 
  3. Inadequate sedation during intubation. Inadequate sedation or paralysis during intubation can result in patient discomfort, resistance during insertion of the breathing tube, psychological trauma, and damage to the patient's airways. 
  4. Esophageal intubation. This occurs when the placement of the breathing tube is incorrect and located in the esophagus, resulting in poor ventilation and oxygenation and increasing the risk of gastric complications.
  5. Mainstem bronchus intubation. This happens when the breathing tube is placed into one of the mainstem bronchi instead of the trachea, resulting in unequal ventilation and the potential for the overinflation of one lung.
  6. Aspiration of stomach contents. This occurs when gastric contents are allowed to enter the trachea and lungs during intubation, usually if the patient vomits during the process. Aspiration substantially increases the risk of pneumonia and death.
  7. Tissue damage to the surrounding structures. Excessive force or improper technique during intubation can cause trauma or damage to a patient's teeth, gums, mouth, vocal cords, esophagus, and other upper airway structures. 
  8. Improper cuff inflation. This occurs when the endotracheal cuff is over or underinflated for the patient's needs, causing complications like poor ventilation, stiffening of the trachea, or even tissue death where an overinflated cuff is putting too much pressure on the throat and blocking blood flow to those areas.
  9. Equipment failure. If intubation equipment is improperly monitored or uncalibrated and it fails during a patient’s procedure, this can result in poor oxygenation, brain damage, or death.

Long-Term Complications of Intubation Errors 

Unfortunately, intubation errors can cause long-term and even lifelong problems for patients who were injured. Depending on the type of injury and its severity, these people may struggle with:

  1. Ongoing breathing problems. If intubation causes damage to the respiratory system, patients can experience ongoing breathing problems and reduced lung capacity. They may struggle with daily activities and have a difficult time maintaining a normal, active lifestyle. 
  2. Voice changes. Damage to the vocal cords during intubation may cause changes in voice pitch, quality, and range. This can impact communication and professional aspects of a patient's life, potentially requiring speech therapy to address. 
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Intubation errors can be traumatic for the patient, especially if the incident involved too little sedation or pain medication. This may result in post-traumatic stress and patients may experience long-term anxiety, persistent nightmares, and intrusive traumatic thoughts. Mental health support is critical for these patients.
  4. Pulmonary fibrosis. Prolonged exposure to mechanical ventilation can cause a condition called pulmonary fibrosis, or the permanent scarring of lung tissue. It can compromise lung function and result in frequent coughing, labored breathing, and lower exercise tolerance.
  5. Dysphagia. If the esophagus is damaged during intubation, this can lead to dysphagia or difficulty swallowing. This can cause patients great difficulty with eating and drinking and also increases the risk of choking. In severe cases, patients may not be able to get enough nutrition.

Navigating Intubation Injuries

Patients who have long-term complications caused by an intubation injury need comprehensive and compassionate care. This can be challenging to get when medical providers are more interested in protecting themselves after an injury than admitting their mistake and properly treating the patient. Legal advocacy is often needed at this stage to ensure appropriate follow-up care. 

When to Involve a Qualified Cleveland Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you or a family member have been injured or harmed due to an intubation error, The Mellino Law Firm can help. Our experienced Cleveland medical malpractice lawyers will review the facts of your case and help you decide if filing a lawsuit is right for you. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a case consultation by calling (440) 333-3800.