Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

110922_ralph_nader_ap_605Americans have been brainwashed into disbelieving a fundamental truth about their legal system: Lawsuits actually are good for the country. They aren’t as costly nor as numerous as conventional wisdom holds. And they play a crucial role in keeping in check the greed and harm that business interests otherwise might inflict with impunity.

Says who? These are some of the trenchant views newly outlined in a recent magazine cover story by Ralph Nader, one of the nation’s preeminent consumer advocates. It’s true that some partisans sneer at him these days, faulting his attacks on big money politics and blaming his quixotic third-party candidacy for the razor-thin loss by Al Gore 16 years ago.

But lest history forget, Nader’s crusading, particularly with auto safety, has resulted in sweeping reforms that have saved tens of thousands of lives; he has saved American consumers countless sums with his battles against rip-offs by banks, insurers, and other big businesses.

bmi2Medical errors claim the lives of roughly 685 Americans per day─ more people than die of respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s. That estimate comes from a team of researchers led by a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins. It means  medical errors rank as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer.

In a new study published in the British Medical Journal, they define medical error broadly as:

[A]n unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient.  Patient harm from medical error can occur at the individual or system level. …We focus on preventable lethal events to highlight the scale of potential for improvement. The role of error can be complex. While many errors are non-consequential, an error can end the life of someone with a long life expectancy or accelerate an imminent death.

CR-TOC-Cover-05-2016California leads the nation in its number of practicing physicians─and some of those doctors are so awful they’re dangerous, Consumer Reports has found in its deep dive into state licensing boards and MD discipline. The magazine, in a cover story headlined “What you don’t know about your doctor could hurt you,” compiles some ghastly illustrations of bad doctors, including:

  • A pediatrician with a fetish who fondled the feet of patients’ moms during exams;
  • An ob-gyn who surgically removed the wrong ovary from a patient;

For-profit clinics that market to patients with eating disorders or alcohol or drug abuse problems have grown in popularity in recent years. They can be pricey, but their operators insist the residential facilities offer expertise, attentive, needed, and specialized care that hospitals and medical centers cannot. But as the centers have proliferated, health care experts are expressing growing concern about their costs, safety, effectiveness, and marketing.

And now local prosecutors have stepped in, asserting in what may be a landmark case, that a California addiction treatment center is guilty of a patient’s negligent homicide.

The case in Riverside County involves an ailing 53-year-old, longtime smoker and alcohol abuser who sought detox care at one of the 1,500 addiction treatment centers just in the Golden State.

michlawblogA Michigan lawyer may write about the untruthful testimony of an “expert” medical witness because his online blog post and his comments are protected speech under the First Amendment, officials from the Michigan Bar have decided. That’s good news for the lawyer, who had his law license challenged by the witness─a psychiatrist who also happens to be a member of Michigan’s lawyer licensing board. She had demanded that either his post about her or his license be pulled. Now neither will happen.

The case still leaves a lingering odor around that board, the doctor who served as a so-called Independent Medical Examiner (IME), and the process in which she sought sanctions against a legal professional, instead of receiving public condemnation when she got caught, on videotape, fabricating statements about a severely injured plaintiff.

Hired guns

After four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and then internships and residencies for several years after, doctors should be a well-informed lot, right? But they can get themselves into some downright dumb stuff. This includes their wrong thinking about the prevalence of medical malpractice litigation, and their head-scratching revisiting of a less stressful way to train tomorrow’s practitioners.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, new research has found that a relatively few number of physicians account for almost a third of medical malpractice claims paid. The researchers, examining more than 66,000 malpractice claims paid against 54,000 MDs nationwide between 2005 and 2014, said that just 6 percent of doctors had paid claims in the decade. Just 1 percent of physicians paid nearly a third of all claims. The researchers focused on paid claims as a marker of substandard care.

The MDs who had to pay out generally were older, internists, OB-gyns, general practitioners, or family medicine practitioners. As one news report on the study noted: “Each time a doctor got sued, the likelihood that he or she would be sued again went up.” Neurosurgeons, orthopedists, general surgeons, plastic surgeons and OB/GYNs were roughly twice as likely to have repeat settlements, as compared with internists, even after the researchers controlled for the inherent risk of practices like surgery, another news report on the study said.

What does it take to make hospitals safer so patients aren’t harmed? Big stuff and small, some of it surprising─and all of it mattering a lot. For instance:

  • Getting caregivers to wash their hands. It’s the top cause of debilitating and sometimes deadly hospital-acquired infections. Some institutions empower nurses to police and remind dirty doctors; some install video cameras to catch scofflaws; others run frequent and largely successful ─for awhile─ publicity campaigns.
  • Paying extra attention to hygiene with procedures, often considered routine, that break the skin, even a little bit. This has paid off in big reductions in some hospitals in infections linked to catheters put in veins and arteries, especially the central line (for IVs).

Twenty-one patients died and at least two dozen others fell ill from infections now linked to a flexible, state-of-the-art scope used in gastrointestinal examinations, even as the medical device’s manufacturer for years kept selling the instrument and failed to alert hospitals about growing dangers, the Los Angeles Times has reported. The paper detailed its findings about a nationwide outbreak that became public only after problems were publicized at a major, Southern California medical center.

The manufacturer, Olympus of Japan, blamed others and improper cleaning for deadly infections tied to its instrument. It also kept hospitals and regulators in the dark about problems with the devices, allowing each of several hospitals involved to think it was the only one having issues, the paper reported. It quoted a gastroenterologist at one affected hospital as saying the company’s silence was “unethical, irresponsible, and dangerous.”

Only after the Times published reports of three Southern California deaths did federal regulators issue a nationwide warning, and investigations in LA, Pittsburgh, and Seattle were tied together. These indicated that, what the manufacturer had called improvements in the scope’s design and had led to a higher costs for the devices, permitted a grimy film to develop in Olympus scopes; this residue harbored patient tissue and deadly microbes that were fatally spread. The company was brought in to see how hospitals tried to clean the scopes, offering no adverse commentary about intensified procedures that ultimately proved inadequate.

Let the patient beware is an adage that may need to be extended to yet another realm of healthcare: dentistry. Kudos to a reporting team in Texas for their recently published investigation, disclosing that dentists all too frequently are involved in procedures in which their patients die and that ineffectual regulators fail to halt dodgy practices and feckless practitioners, some of whom hopscotch across the country with impunity.

The seven-part Dallas Morning News series finds that at least 1,000 dental patients have died in the last five years due to questionable oral healthcare. The report says the numbers may be greater but that regulatory laissez-faire prevents the public from understanding the severity of the issue.

Patients who go to dental practices for issues as minor as tooth decay and as significant as oral surgery all have ended up dead, often after undergoing poorly supervised anesthesia, the paper says.

cjdTo hear many in the health care professions and tort reform advocates tell it, malpractice litigation represents one of the great scourges of modern medicine, racking up costly and time-consuming verdicts, clogging the civil justice system, and leading caregivers to wasteful defensive practices, including over-testing and over-medicating.

Bah, humbug, to such myths, The Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School has replied in its fifth annual Medical Malpractice by the Numbers briefing book.

The latest work, which is available online for free (click on the previous link and follow to the end of the document for a download hyperlink) provides concise, relevant references in 128 pages of carefully footnoted citations to factual research on medical malpractice, including these salient findings:

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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