Safety of Medical Scopes Called Into Question
An endoscope is a fairly typical medical procedure in which a scope with a camera is inserted into a patient’s mouth and sent down into the esophagus to view and operate on the internal organs and vessels of your body. It allows surgeons to view problems within your body without making large incisions. Endoscopies are thought to be a pretty safe procedure with little risk associated with them. For decades, doctors reassured patients about the safety of medical scopes with a single statistic. The statistic was that the risk of getting a serious infection from an endoscope is just 1 in 1.8 million procedures. However, a group of researchers have written in the American Journal of Infection Control that this calculation is "inaccurate, outdated, based on flawed methodology, and can have profound effects on patients."
The risk estimate was determined in 1993 by a committee at the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, the largest group of American doctors specializing in endoscopic procedures. The society cites the statistic in a brochure titled "Ensuring the Safety of Your Endoscopic Procedure," which it has distributed to clinics and hospitals across the country. But there are difficulties in identifying the endoscope as the cause of infection because of the delay of symptoms.
The risk estimate is now being updated because of a 2009 study. In that study, the Department of Veterans Affairs notified more than 10,000 patients that they may have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens because scopes weren't properly disinfected. Likewise, there was a recent outbreak linked to tainted scopes, including one at UCLA where three people died. As a result of the research that has been done on the risk of endoscopies, professional organizations like the endoscopy society is now updating its guidelines for disinfecting scopes. Hopefully, doctors are alerting patients of the potential risks involved with endoscopy procedures.