Over 450,000 Medical Device Injuries Yearly

Wheelchairs and Scooters Top the List

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 10, 2004 -- More than 450,000 Americans went to hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to medical devices between July 1999 and June 2000, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fortunately, most cases were not fatal; fewer than 1% of the people died as a result of their injuries.

The most common problems were cuts, punctures, and scrapes. Most did not require hospitalization, although more than 10% of these reported injuries were severe enough to require a hospitalization.

The numbers are projections based on data from 1,000 hospitals.

FDA researcher Brockton Hefflin, MD, and colleagues covered a wide variety of medical devices, including wheelchairs, contact lenses, hypodermic needles, pacemakers, and even toothbrushes.

Wheelchairs and scooters accounted for most cases of medically assisted device injuries (40%) --almost 99,000 injuries. Crutches, canes, and walkers came in second (22%) with a little more than 69,000 injuries.

Toothbrushes, in case you were wondering, were associated with more than 2,400 injuries.

Accidents Happen

Most often, the injuries were accidents not caused by the device or user error. For instance, falls while using devices such as crutches were common. So were blows/stabs to the body from items such as hypodermic needles.

Women accounted for 60% of injured patients. Nearly 42% of the overall injuries occurred at home.

"Incidents occurred at home more frequently than any other location; however, they also occurred in various other places, including hospitals and other health care facilities," write the researchers in the journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Calling such injuries an "underrecognized public health problem," the researchers say the numbers may actually be higher, since some people seek treatment at their doctors' offices or clinics.

The study only counted injuries treated in hospital emergency departments.

To put the findings in perspective, an estimated 39 million injuries were treated in emergency rooms during the same time frame.

Sports accounted for nearly 10 times the number of injuries as medical devices during the study's period. There were 4.3 million sports-related injuries, compared with 454,383 injuries with medical devices.