Researchers at Vanderbilt University have concluded that being in the intensive care unit (ICU) with a drug-induced coma causes brain injury symptoms in 1 out of every 3 patients, sometimes for up to one year. Patients suffered memory loss, dementia, and heightened stress (post-traumatic stress syndrome) as a result of their stays. In addition, 1 in 4 suffered from moderate Alzheimer's Disease like symptoms.
So, you might be wondering, does this mean that a patient might be able to sue a hospital for medical malpractice by causing a brain injury in an ICU stay? That is an interesting question, and it is an important one to ask. First, it should be pointed out that this is just one study. One study turns into two and eventually into more studies until, finally, the medical community reaches some sort of consensus on this issue. The ultimate issue is whether inducing a coma in an ICU is, given the current body of medical knowledge and practice, a failure to exercise professional care (i.e., is it "negligent"). And at this point in time, that is not the case. Drug-induced coma in ICUs is of course very common and a well-accepted practice. Having said that, if a hospital's use of any drug deviates from what is standard and normal in the medical community, that may always lead to liability for the hospital and its doctor if it results in harm to a patient.
This study does, however, put the medical community on notice that a problem may exist here. And the authors give some pretty specific suggestions for changes in "culture" in hospitals. Notice of the possibility of harm is a big issue in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. As a result of this study, the medical community may not claim that it is not "on notice" of this issue. The study indicates that the problem is important, is worth studying, and is real. We'll be following this one.