Articles Posted in Emergency Rooms

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The Center for Justice and Democracy (CJ&D), a consumer rights group out of New York Law School, has shared their list of 22 famous figures who have been harmed and even killed by medical malpractice.

Most of us are familiar with the high profile drug-related tragedies of Michael Jackson (2009) and Prince (2016) and even Judy Garland (1969) and Marilyn Monroe (1962). Some of us are familiar with the details surrounding the death of comedian Joan Rivers in 2014 during an endoscopy at a New York City clinic.  But it was surprising even to us to read the details of medical neglect in cases involving other beloved celebrities. As CJ&D pointed out in their report, no one is exempt from medical negligence or malpractice, not even celebrities with all the money and resources in the world at their fingertips. The report also shared several findings that now have become well known to the public. Among them, that medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in this country.

Each of the 22 cases highlighted in the report has resulted in a settlement or verdict (or is pending) and in many of them, grieving loved ones or the victims themselves have said that it’s not about money, but instead about enforcing a sense of right vs. wrong in the face of injustice.

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A large study published August 6th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) has connected higher heart attack survival rates to women patients treated by a female doctor. Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a woman dies every 80 seconds from a heart attack. Women are also more likely to die from a heart attack than men, the reasons for which have never been proven.

Women MDs Linked to Heart Attack Survival

The study, entitled “Patient-physician gender concordance and increased mortality among female heart attack patients,” relied on hospital records of 582,000 heart attack patients in Florida hospitals over the nearly 20 year period between 1991 and 2010.

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The Center for Justice & Democracy, a consumer rights advocacy group out of New York Law School, has compiled a review of medical malpractice incidents and has publicly shared their findings. Entitled “Medical Malpractice: By the Numbers,” the briefing examines recent medical studies and investigations of both inpatient and outpatient groups and facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and hospice organizations.

The data brings deficiencies in medical care into the spotlight, specifically the care Americans receive within hospitals. Below is a summary of information from the report our medical malpractice attorneys think is particularly informative and worth sharing. All data sources can be found in the CJ&D briefing. We have included the page number of the report that contains the source for each statistic.

HOSPITALS:

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When we go to the emergency room we expect to be seen by a physician as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, a man recently suffered permanent and disabling injuries after his diagnosis and treatment was delayed after a fall. The man entered the hospital after a fall, but it took hours for the staff to determine his condition. In the meantime, the man was in extreme pain. The man filed a lawsuit in Cook County stating that the neglectful medical care led to permanent injuries. The man is now a quadriplegic.

Prolonged Wait Time

According to the lawsuit, the man waited for hours to receive medical care. The incident happened at St. Joseph Hospital. The man came to the hospital after suffering a fall. He was in severe pain, but the medical staff took hours to examine and diagnose his condition. The lawsuit states that the staff was negligent by not providing adequate medical attention in a timely manner. The man’s condition deteriorated because of the failure to promptly provide proper medical care.
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Beeping, flashing, whirring, buzzing-a hospital room can be full of so many machines that it looks like a scene from Star Wars. These machines can be absolutely essential to patient health and safety. But according to a recent article in the Journal of American Medical Association, a problem arises when too many alarms and noises distract healthcare professionals from the vital ones that could be alerting caregivers to a life-threatening situation.

Medical machines emit alarms in various circumstances, from heart rate monitors to alerts when patients try to leave their beds. Ideally, alarms would activate only to alert a healthcare provider to a serious problem, which that healthcare provider could immediately address. But often, alarms do not function as intended, failing to alert to serious conditions, or will over-alert to non-serious problems. For example, alarms on cardiac monitors frequently set off when a patient is sleeping and the heart rate is lower but normal, and intravenous pumps emit a series of alarms just to indicate that it is finished pumping.

This electronic orchestra has caused frustration for both patients and providers-sometimes with deadly results. Some healthcare providers have resorted to disabling or muting alarms altogether. According to the Washington Post, the Joint Commission received 98 reports of alarm-related incidents, including 80 deaths, over a three-year period. But the commission says this is a gross undercount because reporting alarm-related deaths is voluntary. In one particularly tragic case, a 17-year-old girl’s respiratory monitor was muted when suffered irreversible brain injuries due to repressed breathing and died 15 days later.

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In medical malpractice cases, the issue is whether doctors acted as reasonable medical professionals in their situation. However, as the following case demonstrates, there are certain extreme examples where the answer to that question is relatively clear. In those cases, the question becomes one of damages.

Damages & Medical Malpractice

Damages are designed to restore the victim to the position they were in before they suffered the harm in the case. Beyond medical expenses, juries may also award damages to compensate the victim for many other items, like earnings they would have received but now will not because of the injuries. They may also award damages to compensate the victim for the pain and suffering they have endured. In certain cases, they may also award punitive damages to punish the defendant and try to prevent future occurrences. For victims of medical malpractice, money may not be able to completely fill the void left, but as the case below shows, often it can go a long way toward compensating the victim and restoring justice.

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” has stirred the pot in both the court of public opinion as well as our judicial system. The now infamous mandate provision, which requires most individuals to have health insurance policies beginning in 2014 (with some exceptions) or otherwise pay a penalty through their taxes, made its way up the ladder to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court upheld its constitutionality, although the debate as to its wisdom rages on. One angle not so publicly explored is the mandate’s effects on medical malpractice claims.

The Insurance Mandate’s Effects

While the Affordable Care Act does not directly legislate malpractice, as such torts are governed and adjudicated at the state level, its provisions nevertheless are likely to have far ranging effects on various aspects of healthcare, including malpractice. A Senate report from the Democratic Caucus made brief mention of malpractice, stating that its “sense” was that “health reform presents an opportunity to address issues related to medical malpractice and medical liability insurance,” and furthermore suggested that states should be open to alterations to its civil litigation systems.

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Former President Bill Clinton spoke this week in harsh terms about the many changes that still need to be made in the U.S. healthcare industry to control costs and keep patients safe. Since leaving office, Clinton has worked on many different initiatives, with much of it focused on health care worldwide. His latest statements on our own health care system are an important reminder of the complexities involved and the need to increase focus on making real changes to save lives.

Too Much Confusion

Clinton discussed these issues when speaking at the first ever Masimo Patient Safety Science and Technology Summit. The purpose of the conference was mostly to share information about health monitoring devices which may be able to collect important data to prevent future patient deaths. These devices have the potential to offer significant benefit to individual patients while provided comprehensive information about common safety problems.

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When problems develop during childbirth most assume the same thing: I hope the child is OK. However, a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that we also need renewed focus on possible harm facing mothers during a birth.

Of course, in the past, childbirth has always been an incredibly dangerous time for mothers. In less developed parts of the world the material death rate remains shockingly high. While we recognize the risk elsewhere, in the United States there is a somewhat unacknowledged assumption that mothers will be fine during a delivery. The high risk of death during childbirth is a thing of the past–now the risk is very small.

Obviously vast improvements have been made over the decades on this front, but the problem has not gone away entirely. In fact, in some ways the risk of harm to the mother during childbirth has increased in recent years. It is vitally important that all of us understand this risk and that medical professionals act reasonable at all times to ensure mothers are not hurt in preventable ways as a result of inadequate response to maternal health complications during a birth.

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The Huffington Post reported recently on troubling news regarding planning (or lackethereof) at a hosptial in New York in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. In all the talk about the mass power outages, subway floodings, property damage, and more, the effect on our most vulnerable is often given little attention. That include medical patients in hospitals.

Of course, it is absolutely incumbent upon all medical facilities to have emergency preparedness plans in place so that care is not sacrificied when things go wrong as a result of unexpected events. However, according to the recent report, one facility was forced to evacuate patients unexpectedly after the power went out and several back-up generators failed. Obviously access to electricity is critical for these facilities, because many patients’ lives literally rely on the functioning of the medical equipment used in their care. That is particularly true for patients who are on ventilators or may rely on extra outside oxygen support. Many other patients may need IV medication. On top of that, when the evacuation took place, it was critical for medical records and charts to follow each patient. It is easy to see how these sort of situations could descend into chaos and, without careful work every step of the way, patients might be harmed.

Employees familiar with the situation reported that the evacuation took all night on the Monday of the storm and half of the following day. It was an “exhausting” but “methodical” process. Apparently at least 300 residents were shifted to nearby facilities. That group including some very sick and vulnerable patients, like 20 newborn babies in the intensive care unit. No doubt the front-line care workers, nurses, students, assistants, volunteers, and others who aided in the effort did the best they could to handle what was undoubtedly a stressful situation.