Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 20, 2013

Recent Deadly NG Tube Error Causes Internet Sensation

When going to the hospital unexpectedly, or even for a routine procedure, it is natural to feel some degree of worry about what could go wrong. Unfortunately for those with medical anxiety, the following article won’t help ease fears, as it is going to discuss a normal procedure that most feel is relatively risk free, and how it can unexpectedly go wrong.

A Routine Procedure

Nasogastric (NG) tubes are often used in medical procedures when the patient is unconscious, usually for surgery or in the case of extended unconsciousness, to administer drugs or food. The tube is inserted into the nose and then moved downwards through the throat and into the stomach. This method of intubation is common and usually has few risks associated with it. Despite the widespread use of NG tubes, they are not supposed to be used in cases where patients might have a skull fracture because the tube could potentially be inserted into the brain.

In one case where this advice was ignored, a 52-year-old patient was intubated with an NG tube after being in a car accident. The medical personnel performing the procedure noticed that there was blood in the tube and determined that the patient was experiencing internal bleeding in his stomach and they treated him accordingly. It was only after skull x-rays took place that the doctors realized that the tube was in fact in the patient's brain; thankfully the patient successfully recovered following surgery.

NG Tube Error Makes an Appearance on the Front Page of the Internet

On April 29 of this year, a user submitted a photo of a botched NG tube insertion to the popular news sharing website Reddit. The patient was a 59-year-old without any history of brain trauma. The tube was inserted after several hours of seizures and vomiting in order to assist the patient in her breathing. The tube was inserted three times before an x-ray determined that the tube was lodged within her brain; it was surgically removed but the patient later died of sepsis.

This post quickly made its way to Reddit's front page, the first page people see when visiting the site and reserved only for top rated posts; the post itself spawned almost 800 comments. Reddit has a global ranking on Alexa of 117, meaning it has huge traffic and a large amount of unique visitors daily. This means that by having a story about an NG tube error on the front page of Reddit, there were suddenly way more people aware that such errors can and do happen than before.

Why Do NG Errors Happen?

NG errors happen due to negligence, pure and simple. Many medical professionals simply fail to consider that NG tubes can pose a significant danger to patients if not used carefully and as a result they don't give as much attention to x-rays and proper placement as they should be giving. Furthermore, many doctors fail to pay enough attention to x-rays when placing NG tubes and they often use the tubes as their 'go to' intubation method, rather than considering if a NG tube is the right option for specific patient circumstances.

The Aftermath of NG Errors

When an NG error occurs, it is almost always preventable and therefore a type of malpractice. This means that victims of such errors or their families must sue in order to make sure those that made careless errors face the consequences. In NG error cases, expert witnesses can prove invaluable because medical professionals tend to sound authoritative on the stand, and juries or judges might end up siding with them.

If expert witnesses are used in NG error cases, then they can clearly and authoritatively debunk medical professionals’ claims and point out why the defending professional behaved negligently. There is no point in pursuing a malpractice case without expert witnesses because not using one greatly increases the chances of losing the case.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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