Scope maker Olympus faces scrutiny over patient deaths, infections

Patient Safety Monitor Insider

March 4, 2015

A Japanese company that commands about 70% of the world’s market share of gastrointestinal scopes in hospitals is facing intense scrutiny after an outbreak of deadly superbugs in U.S. hospitals blamed on poor disinfection practices of the scopes, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

According to the report, medical experts, health officials, lawmakers and patient families are blaming the company's intricate devices for outbreaks across the country, including one at The University of California’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center, where two patients have died and nearly 180 more people may have been exposed to deadly bacteria on contaminated Olympus scopes.

The Times reports that in recent years, Olympus has added more powerful tools to the scopes, such as guide wires that can be used to carry stents and tubes to clear infections and blockages in the digestive tract. The drawback is that extra grooves and channels in the scopes can trap infection-causing bacteria that can be difficult to remove.

Also according to the report, Olympus says it has given customers detailed cleaning instructions, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there aren’t any viable alternatives on the market as the scopes are too vital to do without.