Articles Posted in Medical Error

hospital-unit-300x150As the new year gets under way, regulators and lawmakers need to look hard at a nightmare in New Jersey involving a free-standing surgical center and to a nationwide harms occurring in psychiatric hospitals to ensure that these and other institutions improve the safety and quality of their patient care.

USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, in separate stories, reported about shoddy practices and lax oversight that contributed to significant problems in the medical facilities.

The Journal investigated hospitals for the mentally ill and found that, “More than 100 psychiatric hospitals have remained fully accredited by a major hospital watchdog despite serious safety violations that include lapses linked to the death, abuse or sexual assault of patients.”

When doctors, hospitals, insurers, and their captive lawmakers howl about how unfair malpractice lawsuits allegedly can be for modern medicine, patients who have suffered harms while seeking medical services should require loved ones, friends, and members of their community to view Bleed Out.

This new HBO documentary details the decade-long quest by comedian Steve Burrows and his family for justice for his mother, Judie. She was an energetic, retired teacher when she fell from her bike and needed emergency hip surgery. Before she had recovered, she fell again and needed a second operation. But this time, something went wrong: She lost more than half her blood, fell into a coma, and suffered irreversible brain damage that meant that she would spend the rest of her life in institutional care in rural Wisconsin.

cjrbriefingbook-300x188Facts matter, and, when amassed in a smart way, they can paint a powerful and accurate picture of reality, as is made clear with findings presented in the annual “Briefing Book” on medical malpractice from the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School.

As the Kentucky Supreme Court recently affirmed when it slapped down an attempt in the Bluegrass state to “reform” medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and insurers too readily embrace and spread counter-factual notions about patients who seek in the civil justice system remedies for harms they have suffered while seeking medical services.

It’s our fundamental, guaranteed right to pursue such claims, the justices affirmed — and the CJ&D experts have put together research to show that medical malpractice cases don’t happen often but are valuable in protecting the quality and safety of all patients’ care.

allchildrens-300x220When big hospitals aim to get even more giant, they do so at risk of the quality of care they offer to their patients — and they can do much damage to their brand and hard-to-repair reputations. That may be a reality that elite Johns Hopkins may be discovering.

The Tampa Bay Times deserves credit for its detailed take-down of the “internationally renowned,” Baltimore-based medical institution for the deaths and harms suffered by child heart patients at All Children’s hospital in Florida. Johns Hopkins took it over, and, according to the newspaper, within a half dozen years made a debacle of its well-regarded pediatric heart surgery program, which worsened until youngsters were dying at a “stunning rate.”

As the newspaper reported, based on a year’s investigation of the All Children’s program:

leapfrog-300x300A familiar health care advocacy group will expand its grading of 2,000 or so hospitals across the country to also provide new safety and quality information on 5,600 stand-alone surgical centers that perform millions of procedures annually.

It may seem like a small step, and the devil will be in the details of the new data that will be voluntarily reported, analyzed, and then made public by the Leapfrog Group, a national health care nonprofit that describes itself as being “driven by employers and other purchasers of health care.”

Surgical centers have burgeoned because they can be nimbler than the hospitals and academic medical centers they now outnumber. The centers can be set up without hospitals’ high overhead costs, including for staff and equipment that may be unnecessary for a specialty practice. The facilities also can be set up closer to patients, theoretically offering them greater access and convenience, including with easy navigation and parking.

andrews-300x208Celebrities can play an out-sized role in medicine and health care: Just consider the public attention paid to Angela Jolie or Ben Stiller and their discussions about cancer screening and the disease’s risks, or Michael Phelps, Mariah Carey, and Carrie Fisher raising awareness about mental health issues, or, yes, Gwyneth Paltrow promoting a rash of wellness goop.

But even with their wealth, accomplishment, looks, and social standing, public figures also can be savaged just like ordinary folks by medical errors that harm and even kill them and their loved ones, according to the Center for Justice and Democracy.

Michael_Jackson_in_1988-169x300The group has put out a study with 22 cases, documented by lawsuits and medical board sanctions, to show that, “Celebrity is no safeguard when it comes to medical malpractice,” Emily Gottlieb, the report’s author and the center’s deputy director for law and policy, said in a statement. “As this report illustrates, patients with fame and fortune are just as likely to be horrifically injured or killed by dangerous health providers as the general public.”

abcshow-300x188Big hospitals can’t exploit patients and violate their privacy by throwing open their facilities to Hollywood for television shows that plump institutions’ reputations. And academic medical centers need to think twice before letting their leaders strike cozy deals to enrich a choice few insiders by hawking important diagnostic information collected with best intentions by medical staff from patients for decades.

The roster of hospitals dealing with black-eyes from recent negative news stories about their activities includes well-regarded institutions in Boston and New York —  Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Federal regulators busted the Boston hospitals with fines settled for just under $1 million for “inviting film crews on premises to film an ABC television network documentary series, without first obtaining authorization from patients,” reported the U.S. Health and Human Services’ department’s Office of Civil Rights.

brca-cancer-risk-261x300Even as a pair of prominent researchers saw their reputations crumble over controversies connected to their work, a University of Washington team showed anew the importance of rigorous, transparent, independent, and widely shared medical science  to patients, in this case those with cancer.

Let’s start with the seemingly positive take that’s accompanying publication in the journal Nature of research regarding an open database with prospectively valuable information on BRCA1 variants, what some have dubbed the “cancer risk” gene.

Everybody carries both BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, named because BR stands for breast and CA for cancer. All of us have two copies of each gene, one passed down from our mother, the other from our father. The genes make proteins that help repair errors in our DNA that pop up from time to time when our cells divide and duplicate their genetic code.  Mutations in either BRCA gene can disable the repair process and make both women and men carriers of the defect susceptible to certain kinds of cancer.

cduntsch-300x300It carries the plot line of a compelling crime story: A knife-wielding assailant works his way into exclusive institutions across a metropolis. There, time after time, he rips into  victims, inflicting great pain and suffering. He acts under the noses of people who should know better. He gets stopped only when someone in law enforcement steps beyond norms to bring him to justice. There’s even a systemic flaw that makes the drug abusing criminal’s acts more awful.

It’s painful and tragic, however, that the saga of Christopher Duntsch, aka “Dr. Death,” is all too gory, true, and potentially avoidable. It has become even more public via modern technology, an increasingly popular and free podcast by Laura Beil on the Wondery site.

Duntsch, now serving a life sentence in prison, moved from one hospital to another in Dallas, where the cancer-researcher and neurosurgeon morphed himself into a spinal surgeon. He was awful. Colleagues reported him to hospitals and medical licensing officials. They stepped in front of him in operating suites and took instruments out of his hands during surgeries. Duntsch, D magazine says, abused drugs, partied, and talked about having wild sex often before long, complex operations. There have been reports that he may intentionally have tried to maim patients. His surgeries were tied to deaths.

kprobes-300x167An innovation in medical treatment — which was supposed to offer more affordable, accessible, and even convenient care — instead may be getting swamped with safety problems that long have plagued hospitals and academic medical centers.

USA Today and Kaiser Health News Service deserve credit for digging into patients’ nightmares with specialized surgical centers, not only those performing “routine” procedures but also those handling increasingly longer, more complex, and difficult operations. The many surgeries, once the province only of big and well-staffed hospitals, put patients at risk, the newspaper reported, saying:

[Our] investigation found that surgery centers operate under such an uneven mix of rules across U.S. states that fatalities or serious injuries can result in no warning to government officials, much less to potential patients. The gaps in oversight enable centers hit with federal regulators’ toughest sanctions to keep operating, according to interviews, a review of hundreds of pages of court filings and government records obtained under open records laws. No rule stops a doctor exiled by a hospital for misconduct from opening a surgery center down the street.

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