Patient Deaths Caused by Defective Defibrillator Wires

By Kim Smiley

A recent study determined that at least 20 patients have died as a result of defective defibrillator wires.  The wires, also called leads, connect the defibrillator to the heart to both monitor heart rhythms and deliver electric shock if needed.  Defective defibrillator wires have the potential to affect many people since more than 79,000 in the United States and 49,000 abroad have the implants.

This issue can be explored by building a Cause Map, an intuitive, visual root cause analysis method.  To begin a Cause Map, the first step is to determine what the impacts have been on the overall organizational goals.  In this example, the safety goal will be focused on since the study determined at least 20 patients have died as a result of this issue.  Once the impact to goals is found, the Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and adding the information.

In this case, the patients died because their heart stopped.  The heart stopped because the patients were at risk of heart issues, had defibrillators implanted and the defibrillators malfunctioned.  Implanting defibrillators is a common treatment for certain heart conditions and many people have them.

The defibrillators malfunctioned because the wires used to connect the defibrillator to the hearts weren’t properly insulated and a short circuit developed, preventing the defibrillator from shocking the heart when it was needed.  The wires aren’t properly insulated because the silicone coating on the wires is breaking down over time.  The defibrillators are also malfunctioning because the issue with the wires isn’t one that can be found by routine monitoring so the problem isn’t identified until it’s too late.

The company that makes the wires is questioning the findings of the study and says that the information used was incomplete.

It’s also not clear at this time what the best course of action is at this time beyond continuing to monitor patients.  Removing the wires is considered to be a risky operation.

To view a high level Cause Map of this issue, click “Download PDF”.