Articles Posted in Medical Error

cjdlogoCold, hard facts — not hunches, arguments, or theories — matter most when tough health care decisions must be made. Americans have been reminded of this by painful headlines on the opioid and overdose crisis, the rise of lung injuries and deaths due to vaping, and, yes, now the rapid spread of a new coronavirus. Doctors, hospitals, insurers, Big Pharma, and other major parties in the U.S. health care system aren’t always as candid as they need to be, especially in disclosing how they harm and even kill patients.

That’s a truth (with a small “t”) that readers can discover quickly in the Center for Justice and Democracy’s latest edition of its annual “Briefing Book: Medical Malpractice by the Numbers.” The center, at New York Law School, provides evidence about a field that has become the bogeyman for politicians, policy makers, and medical practitioners eager to hide egregious errors with extreme counter factual assertions.

Malpractice cases in the civil justice system provide important insights and checks on how doctors and hospitals care for the sick, injured, and vulnerable.

hhslogo2-150x150The Trump Administration, to its credit, has put out finalized new rules that aim to give patients greater access to and use of their all-important medical records, now mostly captured and contained in electronic form.

Federal officials had to battle a handful of wealthy, powerful corporations that own and install proprietary software and computing systems to try to help patients.

They also instantly created major new concerns with their “interoperability” regulations for doctors and hospitals:

calguardvirusaid-300x169The coronavirus outbreak spreading across the globe may be providing Americans with an unhappy view of the dirty downsides of the too-often dysfunctional U.S. health care system as it grapples with spiking Covid-19 infections.

Congress has appropriated more than $8 billion, so the federal government can provide the nation the support it needs in battling the respiratory illness that exploded out of central China a few weeks ago. Almost 100,000 people globally have been infected with the virus, which has killed thousands. The deaths in this country are rising into the dozens, while infections are increasing into the hundreds. In Italy, the government took a drastic step in dealing with steeply rising infections and ordered a virus-related quarantine of much of the northern part of the country — a tough lock down because the Lombardy area is the largest economic powerhouse of the nation.

In the U.S., federal efforts to stockpile needed medical supplies, notably masks, gloves, and gowns — personal protective equipment or PPEs — continue to lag. The administration is under fire for its slow and ineffectual roll-out of virus testing kits. Vice President Pence promised that big numbers of screening supplies would be available quickly — at least 1 million, asap — but he since has been forced to walk back that pledge. Even as he talked about 75,000 test kits becoming available soon, the Atlantic magazine reported that as few as 1,895 Americans have been tested so far for the virus.

bias1999-300x169Highly educated and rigorously trained doctors may be just as susceptible to a built-in bias that bargain-seeking consumers yield to when they hit stores seeking 99 cent goods, buy into TV hype for $19.99  wares, or fall for a salesman’s pitch for a used car priced at $17,999.

Ivy League researchers call the cognitive flaw “left digit bias.” They warn that this common irrationality can have consequences with doctors and patient care.

As Anupam B. Jena of Harvard and Andrew R. Olenski of Columbia reported in the New York Times’ evidence-based column “The Upshot:”

kidneylabels-300x200For tens of thousands of patients anxiously awaiting lifesaving transplants, a new media investigation has provided what must be heart-breaking news on the laxity with which dozens of donated organs get transported, causing them to be lost or delayed “cargo” and rendered unusable.

The nonprofit, independent Kaiser Health News Service and the Center for Investigative Reporting deserve kudos for following up on the jaw-dropping story of how a human heart got left behind in 2018 on a Southwest Airlines flight. Medical specialists involved at the time downplayed the incident, noting that surgeons had not planned a direct transplantation of that heart in a patient in dire shape, taking various of its valves and tissues, instead.

Still, when reporter JoNel Allecia dug into the ghastly gaffe, she found an organ transplant nightmare. As Allecia described it:

alexahhs-150x150Federal regulators may be on the brink of not only protecting but also advancing patients access and use of a key component of their care: their electronic health records. Or will bureaucrats fold up in the face of a muscle campaign by corporate interests and hospitals?

To its credit, the giant Health and Human Services agency has emphasized that it is moving forward in its announced plans to prepare new regulations on so-called EHRs, pressing patients’ rights and newer, and potentially more nimble tech firms’ abilities to make the information in the records more accessible and helpful.

But Epic, the giant software company that has installed electronic systems in hospitals and health systems nationwide — often for billions of dollars — is leading resistance to the new rules. It has convinced dozens of institutions and groups, some sizable, to lobby officials to oppose this federal intervention.

HowardUhospital-300x126Big hospitals keep getting bigger. But, contrary to what the suit-wearing MBAs may claim, the rising number of institutional mergers and acquisitions isn’t necessarily better for patients and their care.

At hospitals subjected to corporate wheeling and dealing, the quality of care got worse, or, at best, it stayed the same and didn’t improve, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported.

Researchers scrutinized federal data “from 2007 through 2016 on performance on four measures of quality of care … and data on hospital mergers and acquisitions occurring from 2009 through 2013,” they said. These measures, the Wall Street Journal reported, included: patient satisfaction; deaths within a month of entering the hospital; return trips to the hospital within a month of leaving; and how often some heart, pneumonia, and surgery patients got recommended care. They looked at 246 hospitals involved in M&A activity,  controlling their findings with data from 1,986 institutions not similarly affected.

drugslockedup-300x264Hospitals, clinics, and other health care settings — and those who staff them — aren’t immune to the ravages of the opioid crisis and its related abuse of prescription and illicit drugs. For patients, their caregivers’ addictions can have serious consequences, including a less-discussed nightmare: diversions of their drugs.

Lauren Lollini, a psychotherapist and a patient-safety advocate, has penned a powerful and scary Op-Ed for Stat, a health and medical news site. She describes how, while undergoing a relatively routine kidney stone removal at a respected Denver hospital, she was infected with hepatitis C — a draining and chronic liver disease that is blood-borne and is often associated with drug abusers. Lollini, however, had been healthy and did not use drugs. So, how did she get so sick? As she explained:

“[An investigation by the] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that I and at least 18 others had been infected with hepatitis C by Kristen Parker, a technician at Rose Medical Center who had tested positive for the disease before she was hired. She stole patients’ fentanyl-filled syringes off medication trays, injected herself with the painkiller, then refilled the syringes with saline. In the summer of 2009 — about three months after I learned I had hepatitis C — Parker was arrested in one of the biggest hospital drug diversion incidents to date. In 2010, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison.”

lacasamhrc-300x200With mental health services stretched thin and failing to fill significant need, it may be more distressing still for the public to confront growing evidence of big problems in existing facilities that try to treat those with serious psychiatric ills.

The Los Angeles Times, based on its investigation, has found “nearly 100 preventable deaths over the last decade at California psychiatric facilities, including at La Casa Mental Health Rehabilition Center  (shown here). It marks the first public count of deaths at California’s mental health facilities and highlights breakdowns in care at these hospitals as well as the struggles of regulators to reduce the number of deaths.”

The newspaper said it “submitted more than 100 public record requests to nearly 50 county and state agencies to obtain death certificates, coroner’s reports and hospital inspection records with information about these deaths.” Reporter Soumya Karlamangla said she had to look far and wide for data on problems in psychiatric facilities because, “No single agency keeps tabs on the number of deaths at psychiatric facilities in California, or elsewhere in the nation.”

ihs-300x197Although doctors, hospitals, and insurers may howl about the professional harms they claim to suffer due to medical malpractice lawsuits, research studies show that it’s just a tiny slice of MDs who  lose in court and must pay up for injuring patients. Further, the data show that the problem few doctors don’t rack up one, but two or three malpractice losses before they even start to see their work curtailed.

Common sense would suggest that if judges and juries find doctors’ conduct egregious enough to slap “frequent flyers” with multiple losing malpractice verdicts, these MDs might best be parted of the privilege of treating patients. Not only doesn’t that occur often enough, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown the terrible consequences that can result for patients and taxpayers alike when it doesn’t.

The federal government, the newspaper reported, long has struggled to provide promised care through the Indian Health Service (IHS) to those who live on rugged, spare, and sprawling reservation lands. This obligation to provide such medical services is embedded in the Constitution and old treaties. But if it’s tough to get doctors to practice in rural America — where the hours may be extra long and the pay decidedly lower than cities — it had become a nightmare for the IHS to fill its many vacancies.

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