Articles Posted in Infections

We go to hospitals to get well, not to get sick. Unfortunately, thanks to medical malpractice, it does not always work out that way. Sometimes these healthcare provider errors can result in patients suffering infections that can be life threatening. Two people who recently lost their lives due to a “superbug” were infected with their fatal disease when they were at a California hospital.

Nearly 180 Patients Exposed to Superbug

The Los Angeles Times reports that nearly 180 patients who were treated at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center may have been exposed to a potentially deadly bacteria that has already killed at least two people. They did not contract this illness from some other sick patient roaming the hospital. Instead, the culprit is contamination. Medical scopes contaminated with this bacteria were used on these patients. Another report by the newspaper notes that an 18-year old patient still in the hospital was diagnosed back in October with the drug resistant superbug CRE. He was treated with a medical scope tied to the outbreak.
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The American Association for Justice (AAJ) listed a wide variety of ways in which our country would be much worse off if there were no civil justice system in a recent article. We are detailing some of the ways in which health care would be affected if there were no civil justice system. Since medical malpractice law is a part of the civil justice system, eliminating that system would eliminate any recourse patients or their families have when they are hurt by medical professionals. For example, if you or your loved one contracted a severe infection in a hospital due to a hospital’s error, you would have no way of making the hospital pay for your increased medical bills.

The AAJ report tells the story of Dickson Clark. Clark had back surgery in Nevada in 2005, and wound up infected with MRSA in the hospital. MRSA, which can be lethal, is a type of staph infection that is drug resistant. As a result if the MRSA infection, Clark suffered through four years of hospitalizations and surgeries, not to mention further infections. Clark died in 2010. And Clark is not alone. According to AAJ, two million hospital patients get infections each year, and as many as 90,000 of them die. These numbers are WITH a civil justice system in place.
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In a recent article, the American Association for Justice listed a wide variety of ways in which our country would be much worse off if there were no civil justice system. Because medical malpractice law is a part of the civil justice system, hospitals would be severely impacted if there were no civil justice. Without civil courts, patients and their families would have no recourse when doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals hurt them by committing medical errors.

Medical professionals are human beings, so like all human beings, they make mistakes. And there is nothing that can be done to eliminate all mistakes-some people will wind up suffering from personal injuries or even wrongful death no matter how strong a society’s civil justice system is. But there is evidence that when a strong medical malpractice system is in place, patients are less likely to be victims of medical error.
Some of that evidence comes in the form of a study by two experts from Northwestern University. Zenon Zabinski from Northwestern’s Department of Economics, and Bernard S. Black, from the university’s School of Law, published a study last month entitled “The Deterrent Effect of Tort Law: Evidence from Medical Malpractice Reform.” In their study the experts concluded that in states where the legislature’s weakened the civil justice system by instituting caps on non-economic damages, patient safety consistently decreased when compared to control states. In other words, when the legislature guts the civil justice system patient’s suffer. Without the threat of large medical malpractice verdicts, medical professionals in so-called “tort-reform” states had less incentive to be careful.
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The word “hospital” is derived from the Latin word “hospes,” which means host or a visitor of a host. But even though hospitals are customarily thought of by patients as safe havens, they are actually filled with dangerous nosocomial infections, also known as hospital-associated infections (HAIs).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one out of every 20 hospitalized patients will develop an HAI. And with almost 100,000 HAI- related deaths a year, these infections can cause substantial harm to patients.

Magnitude of the Problem

Medical malpractice cases are some of the most specialized in the entire personal injury field. That is because the specific negligence in question is of a professional nature–not necessarily apparent to the general community member. Doctors spend years in post-graduate study understanding the specifics of their field, and so it is illogical to expect jurors to be able to understand what does or does not constitute proper care in any given situation.

Making matters even more complex is the fact that in instances of medical malpractice, patients are already sick with some injury or ailment. This adds confusion, because in virtually all cases the defense alleges that any adverse event–such as the patient’s death–was caused by the underlying ailment that brought them to the doctor originally–and not anything related the professional negligence.

All of this is why expert witnesses are so critical in these cases, explaining what happened in a particular situation, outlining the proper standards of care, and arguing whether the doctor’s conduct in any specific case did or did not meet those standards.

Some immediately assume when hearing the phrase “medical malpractice” that it immediately involves a clash between medical professionals and legal professionals. In popular parlance–particularly when discussing political fights dealing with malpractice–the storyline always portrays the legal industry and the medical industry at odds with one another.

But that is a drastic oversimplification that, among many things, distorts the real complexity of medical errors.

For one thing, attorneys working on these matters do not simply take any case that walks in the door. Virtually all lawyers will listen to concerns of potential clients and take the case only if actual negligence seems to have occurred and the means to win damages as a result of the negligence is possible. Lawyers are not out to “stick it” to doctors every chance they get.

Patient safety advocates often explain the value of transparency when it comes to medical errors. Sloppy service, negligent treatment, and harmful conduct by medical professionals can only truly be understood and addressed when those involved have an idea of the scope and nature of the problem. What’s more, that data needs to be available to everyone–include patients–who can then make hospital choices based on these safety records. Once medical decisions are based on quality accountability tools, then the worst-performing medical facilities may eventually be spurred to change their practices to shape up. Combined with legal accountability following medical malpractice, open information is a critical tool in tackling the still too high instances of medical mistakes.

All of this makes a recent decision from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) quite questionable. As iHealthBeat explained in an article this weekend, CMS have announced that they are making some changes to their popular “Hospital Compare” website. Hospital Compare is a free public site that allows patients to investigate hospitals on a large number of safety measures. It is a very helpful tool when patients and their families are making choices about what hospital to attend for a surgery or other medical procedures.

Yet, it seems that CMS officials have decided to remove certain medical errors records from the website. Specifically, data on patient development of eight different conditions, errors that fall under the rubric of “hospital acquired conditions,” are slated from removal from the website during the annual update set to take place in July. Those eight conditions include:

Medical malpractice refers to all cases where there are claims of professional negligence caused by doctors, nurses, and other care providers. Sometimes these are traditional negligence claims filed by the patient themselves when they are injured as a result of medical errors. At other times, when the patient dies as a result of the mistake, a wrongful death lawsuit is filed. In each case medical malpractice is the heart of the matter, but some of the procedural steps are different depending on who is actually bringing the lawsuit–the patient or a family members following a death.

Wrongful Death Suit after Surgery Delay recently reported on a jury verdict in one of those wrongful death cases following medical malpractice. It is an example of the serious consequences of delayed treatment–in this case a failure to order emergency surgery in time. According to the story, the original case was filed by a widow after her 56-year old husband died on Christmas Day in 2008.

Before doctors can provide any treatment to help with a medical condition, they must first get the diagnosis right. While malpractice often involves problems with the delivery of the treatment (i.e. an error during surgery or a medication overdose), it also frequently stems from failure to identify a problem at all. Besides providing treatment safely, one of the most critical aspects of medical work involves figuring out what course of action to pursue in the first place.

Sometimes a medical issue is quite complex, and it is impossible for proper diagnoses to be made with certainty. However, at other times, doctors fail to diagnose something or diagnose the wrong thing when a reasonable doctor would not have made the mistake. In those latter cases, malpractice may be involved and affected families can seek recovery for their losses.

Misdiagnosis & Brain Damage

Improving patient safety at hospitals and medical clinics is often a matter of getting the little things rights. Sometimes “big” mistakes are still made (i.e. providing a fatal dose of a drug), but in many cases medical errors that cause serious harm are the result of small errors or cut corners that end up blowing up into major complications for patients. For example, considering that it is flu season, something as simple as washing hands regularly and practicing basic sanitary practices 100% of the time can be the difference between life and death. Hospital acquired infections continue to plague hundreds of thousands of patients each year, causing untold harm, prolonged injury, death, and billions of dollars in extra medical costs.

Similarly, the simple step of using a checklist before, during, and after a surgery may mean the difference of life and death. The use of checklists has been a hot topic in the patient safety community for years, and information continues to pour out indicating the effectiveness of the simple tool. Yet, even though the merit of the tool seems obvious, many professionals continue to spurn the use of checklists or only give half-hearted support.

We need to change attitudes and improve hospital safety performance across the board. Most of the resistance is cultural, with professionals feeling confident in their skills and uncomfortable changing things from past practices. On one hand it is easy to understand the frustration of being asked to do something (like use a checklist) which might seem redundant and unnecessary in some cases. On the other hand, the data is clear that use of checklists saves lives, and in the medical context there is simply nothing that should get in the way of actually improving patient care.

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