March 30, 2011

Chicago Product Liability Lawyer Shares Information About Medical Wipe Dangers


One of our roles as Chicago product liability lawyers is to raise awareness and help victims of ill-manufactured goods. The products involved often include things that consumers buy for themselves on store shelves. In addition, those dangerous items are often specialized tools that average consumers do not buy directly—instead they fall victim to the items through other means.

One such issue was discussed by MSNBC yesterday involving tainted medical wipes. The Food and Drug Administration recently asked H&P Industries, the manufacturer of the defective medical product, to stop its distribution. The problem stemmed from alcohol wipes that were recalled after concerns were raised about contamination of a rare infection—bacteria Bacillus cereus. The wipes were used on many patients, causing many to suffer serious infections and at least one death; the victim was a two-year old child.

The acting director of the Food and Drug Administration explained that they “have evidence that shows this firm made and distributed products with a variety of opportunistic pathogens.”

The fact remains that our economic system often makes it impossible for many who make purchases, or rely on medical supplies, to check on the quality of that material before their use. Consequently, the legal system has created a system whereby the manufacturers of these items are held responsible for their safety and must pay for the consequences of their damage. It takes a few initial victims to come forward and share their story before the malfeasance is corrected and all future victims are spared the same heartache.

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March 27, 2011

Many Doctors Failing to Provide Proper Drug Oversight—Leading to Medication Errors


A new study reported in HealthDay exposes a potentially dangerous flaw in the way that many addictive medications are used throughout the country.

Doctors and other medical professionals are the ones charged with best understanding the effects of the medications that they prescribe to their patients. This expertise is intended to include both the potential positive effect the drug may have as well as the areas in which it could be dangerous. The forms of danger include negative side-effects, such as the potential for addiction to the medication. Unfortunately, many doctors are not tracking the use of these prescribed drugs.

The Journal of General Internal Medicine published this latest study that tracked opiate drugs—like oxycodone—that often lead to addiction and overdose. More than 1,600 records were examined on patients who took the drugs over a two year period. Unfortunately, the monitoring of those patients—particularly the ones identified as high risk for abuse and addiction—were rarely adequate.

The failure to properly monitor the drug use meant researchers discovered that very few patients received regular drug testing or regular prescription refills. Instead, on average the patients identified as high-risk sought refills earlier than those others.

One researcher explained: “We were disturbed to find that patients with a drug use disorder were seen less frequently in the office and were prescribed more early refills than patients without these disorders. We hope that these findings will call attention to this important safety concern.”

The result of these failures in our area likely means an increase in Illinois medication mistakes and other preventable problems.

Researchers recommend that doctors take a proactive, measured approach to prevent prescription drug addiction and abuse. These measures would include more face-to-face office visits, regular drug testing, and refill schedules only upon set intervals.

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March 26, 2011

Defective DePuy Hip Implants Continue to Affect Illinois Victims


Stories of hardship and suffering of those who were given defective DePuy hips implants continue to be heard across the country. The State Journal-Register recently shared the story of one Illinois hip recall victim whose life has been turned upside down by the medical device problem.

The 58 year old construction worker loves horseback riding and water skiing. However, it’s unclear whether he will ever be able to do those things again. His problems began last year when the Illinois victim had hip revision surgery in early March. Later that year he had blood tests performed which indicated dangerous levels of chromium in his bloodstream.

The metal particles had entered his body from the DePuy hip implant that he had gotten the previous March. The metal-on-metal device has since been discovered to have caused dangerous complications in thousands of patients who received the product.

The Illinois victim ultimately required a second hip implant operation—a dangerous revision surgery that itself poses complication risks. He is now unable to put any weight on that side of his body. The man hopes to attend therapy, but he must wait a few more weeks before further medical tests are taken to understand the best way to begin therapy.

The DePuy hip implants problem was uncovered last year, prompting the official recall in August of 2010. However, complaints about the devices go back to 2005. Nearly 100,000 patients received the specific metal-on-metal implant in question in the six years it was used. At least 12,000 of those patients will likely face severe complications as the device fails, requiring corrective surgery. Many of those patients may not be aware of their risk.

The failure of the devices caused metallic particles to be released in patient bodies. The particles then may enter the bloodstream ultimately risking a range of problems from deafness and dementia to heart failure. The consequences cannot be overstated.

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March 25, 2011

Hospital Negligence Leads to Bacteria Infections


No matter how many safeguards are put into place or how clear protocols are disseminated at a medical facility, hospital errors will always occur if the employees implementing those standards are negligent or abusive. In other words, medical malpractice can only be prevented if nurses, doctors, and all other medical professionals follow the required actions at all times.

Unfortunately, far too often individuals in these crucial positions make reckless, or even knowing, mistakes that put dozens of patients at risk. The Washington Post reported on just such a story.

A nurse at a hospital in Minnesota was recently suspending following an investigation into her theft of pain medication. The nurse is suspecting of taking the medication directly from patient IV bags. Apparently the nurse used a syringe to pull out pain medication from the bags. She then replaced the stolen drugs with saline or air to fool observers into thinking the level had not changed.

What’s worse is that it is thought she may have introduced an unusual bacterial infection into those patients from whom she was stealing. The bacterium involved is not usually found in people, and so doctors aren’t clear what the ultimate consequence will be.

At least 23 patients have been notified of the problem. As of yet no serious problems have resulted from the possible infection—however there remains a clear risk that more deadly complications could develop.

The U.S. Food and Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration have entered the investigation.

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March 24, 2011

Many Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Start With Hospital Communication Errors


The Wall Street Journal recently discussed a common workplace problem that has particularly deadly effects when conducted by health-care workers.

A new study has found that poor and disrespectful communication between colleagues in a hospital leads to increased chances of medical errors. The research found the greater chance of medical malpractice occurs even when preventative measures are taken to reign in the problem. The findings were made by the authors of a two-part research study of operating room and critical-care nurses. Nearly 2,400 nurses participated in the effort.

Positively, over 85% of those involved indicated that they used some form of preventative measure to reduce medical errors, like checklists and hand-off orders. However, shockingly, 84% of nurses had worked with doctors who were taking dangerous shortcuts —risks that increased the patient chance of developing complications. Over a quarter admit that those shortcuts had led to medical mistakes and patient harm. Nearly 20% also admitted that patients in their care were injured by the simple incompetence of the medical professionals charged with their care.

The problem is amplified because the nurses often found it inappropriate to stand up to the poor conduct. Over half of the responded indicated that they were placed in situations where they felt it was unsafe to speak up about an issue or were unable to get other medical staff members to listen to the concern.

The goal, says the experts, is for a medical environment to be created “in which anyone can speak up to anyone about their concerns, and everyone holds everyone else accountable for safe practices.”

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March 23, 2011

Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyer Shares List of Common Malpractice Events


Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that most people in our area have heard the words “medical malpractice.” But unless you have ever fallen victim yourself than there is a good chance you are not familiar with the various forms in which the medical mistakes occur.

The National Quality Forum created an updated list of adverse medical malpractice issues in 2006. The information is culled from adverse medical error summaries, like the comprehensive one issued each year by the state of Minnesota. For example, the most recent list contains serious medical malpractice events as well as examples of nursing home abuse that are easily preventable and have dire consequences. They are divided into general categories and then subdivided by specific type of event.

Examples of errors include:

Surgical/Invasive Procedure Events
1. Surgery performed on wrong body part
2. Surgery performed on the wrong patient
3. Foreign object left in the body after surgery

Case Management Events
1. Medication errors
2. Use of incompatible blood products
3. Failure to diagnose serious medical problem

Environmental Events
1. A serious burn or electric shock
2. Oxygen or gas contamination
3. Bedrail injury or death

Product of Device Events
1. Use of contaminated drugs
2. Malfunction of medical device (like the installation of a DePuy hip implant)
3. Intravascular air embolism

Patient Protection Events
1. Infant discharge to wrong person
2. Patient disappearance
3. Patient suicide

Criminal Events
1. Impersonation of a health care provider
2. Sexual assault of patient
3. Physical assault on patient

Nursing Home Negligence
1. Fall of a resident
2. Development and failure to treat pressure ulcers
3. Resident wandering or elopement
4. Resident suicide
5. Physical abuse between residents or involving staff
6. Sexual abuse by the same
7. Bed rail injuries
8. Failure to timely seek emergency medical care

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March 22, 2011

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed After Illinois-Area Medical Malpractice


The Madison-St. Clair Record reported last week on a medical malpractice lawsuit that was filed on behalf of a woman who died following questionable treatment by several doctors at two hospitals—St. Elizabeth’s Hospital of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis and Belleville Family Medical Associates.

According to the details of the wrongful death lawsuit, the victim arrived at St. Francis in February of 2009 with severe neck pain. The victim had a history of diabetes and renal failure, but the doctor who saw her discharged her shortly after her arrival. Several days later the victim was back at the hospital after calling an ambulance with a string of problems including full body pain, abnormal vital signs, hyperventilation, and an inability to take fluids. She was also quickly discharged after this second visit.

The same day that she was discharged the woman visited her primary care physician at Belleville—however, she merely prescribed her pain medicine and sent her away. The next day the victim had received no improvement and went back to the hospital. It was only then that doctors discovered that she was suffering from pneumonia. The condition interfered with her oxygen flow—providing insufficient oxygen to her brain. She soon suffered an anoxic brain injury, sending her into a vegetative state.

The woman was placed on hospice care and died shortly after.

The grieving husband eventually filed this brain injury lawsuit against the negligent medical professionals who failed to take appropriate action after the repeated attempts by the women to explain her serious symptoms. Specifically, the suit cites the facility’s failure to notice the significance of the symptoms, run appropriate tests, and adequately diagnose her condition.

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March 21, 2011

Illinois Medical Malpractice Lawyer Files Lawsuit After Surgical Error


Earlier this month the Quad City Times shared the story of an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer that has filed suit on behalf of a patient who was blinded after a back surgery. The victim sought representation to file the medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon who performed the operation, ORA Joint & Bone Centers, and Trinity Regional Health System.

According to reports, the victim had back surgery last May. The surgery was prompted by a back injury that the man incurred while at work for Union Pacific Railroad. The lumbar spine surgery involved the extraction of some bone material by the surgeon. The patient, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes, was placed on his stomach and face during the procedure. The surgery was originally scheduled to last two and half hours. However, the operation went over—totaling over four hours and ten minutes. Even with the length of the operation, the surgeon wrote that there were no complications in his post-surgical report.

However, following the operation, the victim was found to have dangerously low blood pressure, and had swelling around his eyes and face. The unsuspecting patient also could not move his upper extremities and was blind after the operation. The blindness has subsequently been determined permanent. The man’s size and diabetes placed him a high risk for complications, necessitating changes in procedure to guard against them. However, the medical professionals failed to take those precautions.

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March 20, 2011

Medical Malpractice Occurs With Unnecessary Prescriptions


Earlier this week we reported on a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against a doctor and hospital accused of implementing unnecessary heart stents. Unfortunately, the problem of unnecessary medical care is not isolated to one location or one type of procedure.

Reuters is reporting on new allegations that nursing home doctors unnecessarily prescribe antibiotics to elderly residents for treatment of possible urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are very common in nursing homes, affections virtually half of residents at some point in their stay. However researchers found that a shocking 40% of residents ultimately receive drug prescriptions to combat UTIs that they don’t actually have. As a result, those patients saw an increase in their risk of getting a bacterial infection.

The main problem is that doctors should only prescribe the antibiotics when a patient meets certain criteria—but they have been shown to prescribe it well before a nursing home resident exhibits those symptoms. As a result, future bacteria are more likely to become drug resistant, becoming more lethal to the particular patient in the future. For example, one of the wrongly prescribed residents in this study ultimately developed Clostridium difficile (C.Diff), a dangerous bacterium that can ultimately become life threatening.

One doctor involved in the research explained, “We are creating a massive problem that is going to make life incredibly difficult in the future in terms of drug resistance.”

It is unclear yet if a medical malpractice lawsuit will be filed in this case to hold the negligent physicians accountable for their misconduct. However, it is vital that steps be taken to ensure this problem is addressed in the future.

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March 19, 2011

Illinois Medical Lawsuit Involving Kickbacks and Illegal Deals


An Illinois medical company is set to pay $85 million as part of an Illinois medical lawsuit settlement, reported Reuters last week. The Illinois lawsuit stems from allegations that the company, Medline Industries Inc., paid illegal kickbacks to different hospitals and businesses that buy its supplies. The business makes and sells surgical and medical products like exam gloves, anesthesia and wound treatments.

These activities are illegal, because the supplies themselves are paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. The violations are one of the largest yet recorded under the False Claims Act led by non-government advocates—federal legislation that seeks to ban these unfair, dangerous practices. The law seeks to ensure that all those working in the industry conduct business on a level playing field. Hidden payments—ultimately made with taxpayer funds—create a skewed, unfair competitive market. Medical patients are hurt in the long run.

According to the suit, the company allegedly offered the kickback cash payments as a way to earning new business. This was accomplished in a variety of forms: falsely labeling the payments as “rebates,” claimed charitable donations, junkets, and expensive gifts. The activities were claimed to have been ongoing for at least five years, but potentially longer.

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March 18, 2011

Another Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filed For Unnecessary Heart Stent Implants


Pittsburgh Live reported yesterday on a medical malpractice lawsuit alleging a physician performed a string of dangerous and unnecessary medical procedures.

The suit alleges that a physician knowingly had a heart stent implanted into a patient who didn’t actually need it. A stent is a wire device, mesh-like in appearance, which is put into an artery to ensure it remains open. This is intended to allow blood flow to continue through a heart.

The stents costs patients $10,000 or more, require risky surgery, and place patients at increased risk for a variety of other problems. The doctor is this case was caught implanting hundreds unnecessarily, but experts believe that wasteful stent procedures are a nationwide problem. For those reasons, it is obviously not an operation that a patient would undergo unless medically necessary.

This is the eighth medical malpractice lawsuit that has been filed by patient against the Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital. The hospital has acknowledged that many patients may have been given the implant without reason. The facility sent letter to 141 patients warning them of the problem.

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March 17, 2011

The Hidden Motives of Medical Malpractice Lawsuit “Reform”


All political observers are aware that there is often disconnect between the publicly stated reason for a policy and hidden motivations kept from the general citizenry. That is certainly also true about claims made by proponents of current efforts to pass so-called “tort reform.” There remains an echo-machine that spreads information attempting to show a need for changes to the civil justice system—but a deeper examination shows that those reasons are little more than pretext.

Public Citizen recently discussed this problem. For example, the U.S. House member who originally sponsored the latest bill to take away victim rights (in the form of H.R. 5), explained that the bill is necessary to do two things: (1) prevent “frivolous” lawsuits ; and (2) ensure that lawyers do not use the legal system to make enrich themselves instead of helping the victims in need.

But are those the actual motives for this legislation? Logic indicates they are not.

First, frivolous lawsuits are by definition not meritorious. There is no cash payout for merely filing a lawsuit. Instead, as our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers well know, there are huge financial barriers that must be overcome by the plaintiff themselves before the merit of any potential claims is properly gauged. It is only after those resources are committed that evidence and explanation are presented to an impartial jury who then decides the outcome of the case. Claims without merit already have no incentive to be filed—taking away rights of legitimate negligence victims will have no bearing on that.

Second, virtually every medical malpractice victim who has successfully filed a lawsuit will quickly explain the value and benefit acquired by holding the wrongdoer accountable for the losses they incurred. In fact, the sponsor of H.R. 5 himself appears to understand the value, as he filed a lawsuit himself following a car accident. In the suit, the Congressman sought damages for the physical injuries and mental pain he suffered. He specifically asked a fair and impartial jury to award him recovery for the fright and distress he suffered at the time of the crash and that he claims he will likely suffer in the future because of the car accident.

Therefore, the esteemed legislator is clearly aware of the need to allow jurors to make these decisions without being restricted in their role by the one-size-fits-all generic decisions of Washington D.C. legislators.

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March 16, 2011

Illinois Medical Malpractice Watch: Latest Tort Reform Bill Infringes on Judicial & Religious Liberty


The 7th Amendment Advocate blog remains a good source of comprehensive, clear-sighted analysis of the tort reform debate. Last week a new post outlined the details of the latest misguided legislation aimed at taking away the rights of negligence victims.

The bill known as H.R. 966—or the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA)—essentially attempts to toughen rules of federal Civil Procedure, which would create disincentives to filing an Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit and add judicial sanctions on attorneys. The basics of the bill are similar to legislation that passed the U.S. House in 2005 but failed to be accepted by the Senate.

More specifically, LARA has three major elements. The first involves making judicial sanctions on attorneys mandatory rather than discretionary. Second, judicial sanctions would be deemed a “main objective” of the rule instead of mere deterrence. Finally, the bill would remove the “safe harbor” provision of the current rules, which allows an attorney the possibility of withdrawing a suit without exposure to sanctions. All of these measures are essentially an attempt to “scare” lawyers from brining certain cases forward for consideration.

The logical reasons to oppose the legislation remain potent. As with all tort reform bills, the law is an unwarranted intrusion into the civil justice system; it would only further chip away at the rights given to the judicial branch in our split governmental system. It is clear that the nation’s Founders intended the courtroom to be a fair, separate sphere of justice immune for overreach by the legislative branch.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the rule changes regarding lawyer sanctions would likely have the effect of squelching certain types of meritorious claims. Those include expected categories, like Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits. But the problematic effects are actually seen most notably in lawsuits alleging infringement of religious liberty. Statistics indicate that there has been a clear decrease in the number of suits brought forward to uphold the rights of citizen’s religious freedom when changes like these are enacted.

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March 15, 2011

Chicago-Area Surgeon Faces Medical Malpractice Lawsuit


A former international fugitive and high-profile negligent doctor will face a judge and jury in his first trial on Monday after five year on the run. According to the Indy Star, the Hammond plastic surgeon has been charged by countless victims for basic negligence, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.

At least two dozen former patients (and likely many more) have already stepped forward to share their stories heartbreak following their work with this negligent doctor. The first case to go to trial is a medical malpractice lawsuit brought by the victims of one family whose mother was killed after the doctor failed to diagnose her lung cancer. The family filed the suit in 2004, which prompted the doctor to flee the country. Authorities were unable to find the man for 5 ½ years until he was finally apprehended on an Italian mountainside in mid-December 2009.

Besides this medical malpractice case, the doctor is also facing 22 counts of health-care fraud related to the substantial Medicare and Medicaid fraud he perpetrated while his practice was open. He has plead guilty to those counts and will be sentenced by the end of next month.

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March 14, 2011

Corporations Seek Tort Reform To Take Away Rights of Illinois Medical Malpractice Victims


An article in the Huffington Post last week emphasized a principle that we have discussed often on this blog: the effect tort reform will have on limiting valid Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits. The story attempted to provide context to the often misleading claims made by proponents of reform.

One tactic used to distort the effect of these reform efforts is to mention large verdicts reached by juries in a few isolated cases that seem unfair out of context. For example, the most high-profile case mentioned is that of the elderly McDonald’s customer who was awarded $3 million following horrific burns she suffered when an employee spilled boiling coffee into her lap. The award was deemed by some as a sign of “what was wrong” with the American civil justice system.

However, a closer look at that particular case provides a more appropriate filter though which to examine the personal injury lawsuit. The 82-year old victim’s burns were only inches from her private area, ultimately requiring a variety of skin grafts. She was certainly not the only person harmed by McDonalds in this way. Over 700 people had already made formal complaints to the company because of the coffee situation. However, those complaints had done nothing to change the McDonalds practice of serving coffee at temperatures up to 205 degrees Fahrenheit—sufficient to peel skin off bones in less than seven seconds.

The elderly victim in the original case only sought to have her medical bills paid for by the negligent company. Instead, after hearing the evidence, the jury decided that the only way to get the company to change its dangerous practice (because 700 victims apparently had no effect) was to hit the company in the pocketbook. The jury, made up of community members, therefore decided to award the $3 million in that particular case to emphasis the company’s extreme negligence in allowing victims to mount without implementing any changes.

Unfortunately, that back-story is rarely explained, allowing the myth of certain lawsuit oversteps to be perpetuated. The truth remains that tort reform efforts are pushed by big businesses seeking to insulate themselves from the responsibility of paying for the consequences of their behavior. Instead of accepting the duty to compensate victims of their negligence, these large companies, from medical providers to nursing home conglomerates, would rather rig the system so that legal rights are taken away from the people they harm.

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March 13, 2011

Failure to Diagnose Cancer Leads to Lawsuit


The Tribune Star shared the details last week of a verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The case was filed against a doctor who failed to diagnose colon cancer in a patient in 2004. The victim, a former police officer, alleged that his doctor at the AP&S Clinic failed to perform necessary tests that could have detected his colon cancer. With earlier detection, the victim would have had a better chance of beating the deadly disease.

The victim, then only 35 year old, visited the doctor with rectal bleeding and other gastric problems. However, the doctor failed to order a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to determine if cancer was present. A reasonable physician would have performed those tests under the circumstances. A while later the patient went to another doctor who performed the necessary tests and discovered that the cancer had developed, was at Stage 4, and incurable. He has been given less than a year to live.

The medical malpractice lawsuit went to trial last month, with the jury reaching a verdict in favor of the victim. They awarded him $2.5 million for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and decreased life expectancy. However, that award will be cut in half because of an arbitrary cap on damages that exists in medical malpractice cases in the state.

The doctors’ failure to diagnose life-threatening problems with their patients is one of the more egregious forms of medical malpractice. Patients have the reasonable expectation that when they visit a doctor with medical concerns, the doctor will be able to properly diagnose their problems if possible. All too often however, they are sent home before receiving the proper care—often with deadly consequences.

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March 12, 2011

Large Illinois Medication Lawsuit Ends with $68.5 Million Settlement


The Los Angeles Times reported this weekend an agreement reached with the large pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca following a multistate drug lawsuit.

The Illinois medication lawsuit stemmed from apparent “off label” use of the drug Seroquel. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults. However, the drug has been used to treat children with those conditions as well as adults with a variety of ailments, anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Doctors are allowed to prescribe medications for “off label” purposes, but drug companies are prohibited from marketing their products for those non-approved uses. However, the marketing issue was not the only problem. The Illinois attorney general, along with investigators from other states, discovered that the large pharmaceutical giant was failing to disclose the drugs’ potential side effects—hyperglycemia, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and weight gain.

According to the settlement reached by the company with 35 states, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $68.5 million. They will also change their marketing format and properly disclose side-effects so as not to violate the law. This latest agreement comes on the heels of a similar settlement reached by the company with the U.S. government. Last April, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $520 million for its “off label” marketing of Seroquel.

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March 11, 2011

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filed After Drug Mistake


Some of the most tragic medical errors are those that occur during routine hospital visits, when a patient and their family least expect major problems to develop. Boston News reported on one of those shocking mistakes, ultimately leading to the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit.

According to reports, the 76-year old victim went into Massachusetts General Hospital to get rid of a minor urinary tract infection that had developed after breaking her shoulder the year before. Doctors did not expect the infection to cause much trouble, and she was planning to leave the facility very shortly. But she would never made it out of the hospital.

In a deadly mix-up, hospital employees gave the victim a huge dose of blood thinning treatment. The drug Lepirudin was prescribed in an amount 30 times higher than needed. As a result, her blood was incapable of clotting when she bled internally. The suffering victim ultimately hemorrhaged for 12 hours in the hospital before dying.

Obviously the victim’s family was devastated by the medical error and have filed a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking to hold the hospital and negligent professionals responsible for their conduct. Were it not for the egregious drug error, the mother and grandmother would still be alive today.

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March 10, 2011

Poor Communication Between Doctors Leads to Medical Errors


Medical mistakes occur in a variety of forms. The popular image of these errors typically includes mistaken actions during surgery, forgetting to perform vital services, or failure to catch developing complications. However, local patients should be aware that many examples of Illinois medical malpractice involve more subtle issues—like problematic communication between one doctor and another.

The Seattle Times shed light on the problem in a recent article highlighting the disturbing results of a new study. Research out of the Center for Studying Health System Change examined communication between emergency room and primary care doctors working out of the same hospital. The results are distressing.

In short, the two types of doctors rarely contacted one another. The minimal contact held regardless of whether a primary care physician specifically sent a patient to the emergency room or whether an ER doctor needed to clarify treatment plans. The examiners noted that one doctor’s connection the other almost always involved looking at faxed records or electronic records. Yet, that information was frequently hard to read and incomplete. Phone conversations between the two doctors almost always yielded more positive results for the patient. But those conversations very rarely occurred.

After an emergency room visit, follow up care by a primary physician often never includes the regular doctor speaking with the ER physician about the situation. As a result, miscommunication, lapses, and omissions often occur, leading to medical negligence that harm the patients. One primary care physician admitted, “Sometimes we try to piece together what happened based on the handouts a patient gets…it’s that primitive.”

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March 9, 2011

Dangerous Doctors Still Practicing in Illinois


The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday on a story that we have been following closely on this blog: the push to revoke the licenses of Illinois doctors convicted of sex crimes against patients.

It would likely come as a shock to most that when a dangerous Illinois doctor is found guilty of violating a patient in this way, he or she does not automatically and permanently lose his or his medical license. Cases abound of doctors who violated patients in perverse forms only to receive virtual slaps on the wrists from regulators while retaining their ability to see more patients.

New legislation has been introduced to put an end to this loophole, but efforts at passing the legislation have thus far all failed. The latest attempt was introduced by a Republican suburban state senator, Kirk Dillard, and a Chicago Democrat house member, Will Burns. While the Illinois State Medical Society had initially been against the proposal, the organization reversed course and now supports taking a stand against these predator doctors. Lets hope that bodes well for the legislations future.

The Chicago Tribune also called for further legislation affecting Illinois medical malpractice issues –the publishing of doctor profiles. Some legislators are calling for the resurrection of online doctor profiles that allow patients to learn if their doctor has been charged with any crimes or has made any medical malpractice payments in the past five years.

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March 8, 2011

Medical Malpractice Curbed When Doctors Commit to Limiting Errors


Misleading refrains by advocates of so-called “tort reform” often include mention of obstetricians as the classic case of unfair consequences of medical malpractice lawsuits. However, those of us who understand the rights of medical patients repeatedly indicate that doctors seeking to minimize their malpractice liability had one clear method of doing that—actually committing less medical malpractice.

New research published by Crains now seems to offer a clear example of how innovative programs in obstetrics had the effect of lowering medical malpractice payouts—and improving patient care in the process. A New York hospital has been able to cut its lawsuit payouts by a staggering 99% simply by following simple, effective methods of improving medical care.

Those new measures included clear documentation of all steps taken by all medical professionals involved in patient care. Other changes involved the use of electronic applications for nurses to communicate with one another on patient progress. The hospital also conducted emergency drills to better understand the protocol when a mother suffers life-threatening complications. The facility even hired more employees, so that no single doctor or assistant was forced to work in sleep-deprived conditions.

The head of the team that enacted these important changes explains, “Any hospital could do it—it’s not about money, it’s about changing the culture to make it safer to deliver babies.”

Clearly, Illinois medical malpractice can similarly be limited if local hospitals are committed to taking necessary steps to improve patient care.

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March 7, 2011

Some Hospitals Remain Skeptical of Reporting Medical Errors


Lack of accountability is one of the key reasons why medical mistakes continue to persist with little signs of abating. That is why a major step in improving patient safety involves sharing information with all medical consumers. In that way, public pressure can be placed properly on those professionals or facilities who pose the clearest risk to those in their care.

Unfortunately, many facilities and medical professionals are reluctant to share honest information about the reliability of the services they provide. St. Louis Today recently discussed the problem of providing more accountability to all medical patients and their families. Those standing in the way of accountability explain that public reporting of medical errors might make certain care workers and institutions feel uncomfortable owning up to mistakes.

However, many patients rights advocate explain the illogic of that argument. One remarked, “I can’t understand that the hospital says they’d take better care of you if they knew they weren’t going to be held accountable if they made a mistake. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Locally, we have seen some improvement in accountability. Illinois hospital mistakes are now reported in some ways. The Illinois Department of Public Health has worked to provide hospital-wide information on certain preventable medical problems. The spokeswoman for our Department of Public Health shared that “if consumers are informed they will be able to ask questions of their health care providers to receive the best health care possible.”

Of course, much work remains before the system is as robust as it should be. For one thing, Illinois doctors are still fighting the publication of profiles that would allow medical patients the opportunity to learn about their doctor’s medical care history. Those profiles would include information about Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits that result in sanctions against the professional.

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March 6, 2011

Patient Safety Awareness Week Begins to Improve Patient Communication


This weekend Business Wire discussed an initiative that begins this week—The National Patient Safety Foundation’s Patient Safety Awareness Week. The event starts on Monday, March 6th and continues until the 12th. The week is intended raise awareness of the continuing problem of preventable medical errors. It also strives to provide outlets for accurate information to be shared about the problem, so that its prevention can be discussed by all those concerned with the health and safety of medical patients.

As we’ve often reported on this blog, patient safety remains a pressing problem across the country. The Institute of Healthcare Improvement explains that each year there are over 15 million incidents of medical harm in American hospitals. The cost of those errors has been estimated to increase Medicare payments by a staggering $8.8 billion. Thousands and thousands of patients ultimately lose their lives because of these mistakes, with millions of friends and family member affected every year as well.

The week-long Patient Safety Foundation effort seeks to advocate for efforts to reduce these sobering statistics. Various complimentary organizations take part in the effort with a variety of patient safety events. For example, one group known as “Engaging the Patient,” is using the time to educate patients about the ways in which they can actively talk with their medical providers to improve the care they receive. Talking with medical professionals and asking necessary questions remain an important way to ensure proper, thorough, error-free medical care.

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March 5, 2011

DePuy Hip Recall Lawsuits Continue To Mount


As we’ve previously reported, the problem with the DePuy hip implants was uncovered last year, prompting the official recall in August of 2010. However, complaints about the devices go back to 2005. Nearly 100,000 patients received the specific metal-on-metal implant in question in the six years it was used. At least 12,000 of those patients will likely face severe complications as the device fails, requiring corrective surgery. Many of those patients may not be aware of their risk.

The failure of the devices caused metallic particles to be released in patient bodies. The particles then may enter the bloodstream ultimately risking a range of problems from deafness and dementia to heart failure. The consequences cannot be overstated.

Just this week WHEC News reported on even more DePuy hip recall lawsuits. Seven people have recently filed suit against the manufacturer of the defective hip implants, DePuy Orthopaedics. One of the victims had the cobalt and chromium implant that began dispelling metal shaving into his body. Those shavings eventually made their way into the man’s bloodstream, causing extreme inflammation. Only a year and a half later, he needed replacement surgery.

His story is the same one faced by many other victims. One attorney explained the conduct of the business responsible for the problem, “this company had basically wanted to continue to make money off of these implants as long as they could, and as a result a lot of people have been. [will]…have multiple surgeries.”

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March 4, 2011

State Legislation Seeks to Improve Safety of Illinois Medical Patients


Medical regulators across the state have received much criticism recently after it was uncovered that many Illinois medical providers may pose unique risk to their patients. Specifically, many doctors who have been convicted of sex crimes are able to keep their medical license and treat unsuspecting patients. However, as the Chicago Tribune recently explained, legislation is advancing which would prevent some of those dangerous Illinois doctors from treating patients.

The main arm of the doctors’ lobby in Springfield, the Illinois State Medical Society, recently announced its support for the legislation that would permanently revoke the license of health care workers convicted of sex crimes and forcible felonies. The legislation would also demand criminal background checks on all doctors and an increase in the number of medical investigations.

A different piece of legislation would take the action a step further by invoking an immediate 45 day suspension for any doctor charged with a crime of this sort. A hearing would then follow the mandatory sentence so that regulators could make a specific determination of how to proceed.

Other legislation affecting Illinois medical malpractice issues has also been introduced in the General Assembly. Some legislators are calling for the resurrection of online doctor profiles that allow patients to learn if their doctor has been charged of any crimes or has made any medical malpractice payments in the past five years.

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March 3, 2011

Examining the Cost of the DePuy Hip Recall


Last month Lawyers & Settlements took a look at the effect that the DePuy hip recall might have on the parent company responsible for defect in the product, Johnson & Johnson.

Blog readers are aware that nearly 100,000 of the implants were recalled by the company in August after evidence mounted quickly showing the extreme danger the product presented to patients. Many of the patients who have suffered complications from the product may have suffered irreparable harm to their bodies. Each time a joint is redone some bone is lost in the patient’s body.

As a result, a large number of DePuy recall lawsuits have been filed by victims seeking to recover for their losses. To help account for the expected payouts, the company has already set aside $922 million in its 4th quarter financial report from last year. Some experts expect the costs to rise much higher than that as literally thousands of victims continue to step forward after suffering the dangerous consequences of the problematic medical device.

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March 2, 2011

Illinois Medical Errors Likely Remain Prevalent Problem


The consequences of preventable medical mistakes remains staggeringly stark: 98,000 patients die every year because of these errors. In our area only a tiny fraction of these victims and their families ultimately file an Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit to seek recourse for the losses incurred. Therefore there remains little urgent call for massive changes at local hospitals to eliminate all of these needless mistakes.

Even when programs are put in place with the goal of limiting the mistakes, the results are often less than stellar. Late last year the Public News Service reported on the results of a troubling study that suggest major hospital initiatives to improve patient safety are ineffective. The research examined the reduction in medical errors at several hospitals before and after the implementation of various programs aimed at cutting out the mistakes. The results indicate that there was little to no reduction at all.

The study revealed that many patients are at a 1 in 5 chances of being harmed by a medical mistake every time that they enter a hospital. Some experts predict that number to be even grimmer because the researchers only focused on examination of original medical charts, instead of following cases throughout. This approach ultimately misses certain mistakes that wouldn’t be caught when looking only at the original information.

Unfortunately experts also confirm that this is a national problem. Research continues to pour in on the systematic failure of hospitals to improve the number of mistakes made. One advocate emphasizes the problem thusly: “Can you imagine any other industry being given 10 years to improve their safety record and failing to do so and not having consequences? They’ve been given all these resources and it simply isn’t working.”

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March 1, 2011

Common Illinois Medical Error--Hospital Acquired Infections


The Columbia Tribune published an extended story this weekend that takes at close look at the prevalent problem of hospital acquired infections (also known as hospital associated infections). The story recounts some shocking sterilization flaws uncovered at a hospital following a Food and Drug Administration investigation. The inspectors uncovered rusty surgical knives, single-use objects being reused, and a variety of other dangerous, unsafe protocols.

The Food and Drug Administration professionals explained that “the cumulative effect of these systematic practices has the potential to affect all patients in the hospital.” Unfortunately, even after inspections reveal troubling findings, little is often done to actually improve the quality of care patients receive at this and similar facilities.

One of the main (and fixable) problems preventing improvement is that hospital regulators rarely share information with one another. As a result, systematic problems are often ignored and rarely are penalties given to hospitals which fail to abide by the standards of care to which they are required.

Many hospitals decide not to take important action to reduce the number of infections that patients acquire at their facilities because they have been deemed to have the “average” rate of infections. However, as has been frequently noted, there remains a virtual epidemic of infection problem at so many hospitals. In that way, hospitals with an infection problem pretend that they do not have one. One expert pithily exclaimed, “Average is nothing to brag about. Average isn’t good enough, especially in the area of infection control. We are aiming for zero.”

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