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Implantable Medical Devices: The Promise and the Peril

Posted By Regan Zambri Long, PLLC || 6-Dec-2017

From the invention of the pacemaker in the 1960s until today, implantable medical devices have become a staple of modern medicine. When matched with the right candidate, they can greatly improve the quality of life, and even sustain life. Today, electronic devices implanted in the body can regulate arrhythmia, monitor blood sugar and blood pressure levels, simulate nerve impulses and even control bladder and bowel functions.

That said, these devices aren’t without risk or even peril—and if not properly implemented and monitored, they can even cause harm. Let’s look at a few of the possible risks.

  • Infection—Despite all attempts to maintain a sterile environment while installing the device, dangerous bacteria may enter at the incision site, causing serious infections.
  • Allergic reactions—On occasion, the patient may be allergic to one or more of the materials used to manufacture the device, causing a health crisis until it is removed.
  • Malfunction—For electronics of any type, device failure is typically not a matter of if, but when. If the device has a manufacturer’s defect, it may fail prematurely—and if the patient’s life depends on its function… you can finish the sentence.
  • Hacking—Some devices now communicate via wi-fi or Bluetooth with other devices, putting them at the same risk for cyberattack as any other connected device.
  • Rejection—Our bodies naturally view any kind of inserted object as an enemy to be attacked. If someone’s immune system is particularly aggressive and resists anti-rejection medications, the patient may not be able to tolerate the device.
  • Explosion?—It’s true. While it’s unlikely to happen while the patient is alive, Slate.com reports a growing number of incidents of devices exploding during cremation, usually due to their batteries. If the implant isn’t removed prior to cremation, the explosion can damage the facility and even injure occupants of the room.

Implantable medical devices can make life better for the right candidate, but you should always be aware of the risks and consult a physician immediately if you observe any warning signs. If you suspect medical error or negligence in the malfunction of an implant, our Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Call our office to learn more.

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