Articles Posted in Prevention Programs

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We have all heard of the seemingly magical black box in airplanes. Nearly indestructible, the device tracks what happens inside the airplane in order to help experts determine the causes of airplane accidents so future accidents can be prevented. Now there may be a similar device that can help prevent personal injuries and wrongful deaths due to medical malpractice.

The Brampton Guard reports that a “black box” is tracking errors in a Toronto operating room. The device collected data that shows that surgeons are making the overwhelming majority of their errors during the same two steps of surgery, over and over again. Now researchers can take that information to try to develop ways to reduce those errors in the future, so that fewer patients wind up injured.
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So a doctor does not do what he should, breaches standards of care, and a patient is harmed. This is medical malpractice. Whether it is providing a wrong dose of medication, failing to catch a change in condition, or anything in between, when standards of care are not met and harm results, then a patient (and their family) can hold the negligent party accountable.

One complexity that exists in many medical malpractice cases relates to determining all parties which may have played a role. Medical care today is complex, there are different layers of oversight, specialists, and many different caregivers providing various services. When something goes wrong, many of them may have breached reasonable care standards.

Supervising Doctors Held Liable

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Prioritizing patient safety usually requires concentrated effort from entire medical caregiving systems–hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, aides, and all those involved in medical care. Many different individuals interact to provide services to patients, and ensuring that mistakes are avoided means that all those involved commit to doing everything in their power to prevent problems. As it now stands, we have a lot of work to do. Upwards of 200,000 patients die every year because of medical mistakes–many more are injured. This is a problem of large proportions.

But the fact that the problem is large does not mean that all possible solutions are complex. In fact, patient safety advocates repeatedly point out that lowering errors rates and saving lives can actually be accomplished with commitment to very simple changes. For example, even the act of washing hands consistently can prevent the spread of infection that claims many patient lives each year. Checklists can also prevent simple oversights and lapses in judgement which result in errors and take lives.

A recent story from Beckers ASC discusses one way that some facilities are trying to prioritize patient safety. The approach is known as the “Stoplight” method for its categorization of different patient safety concerns. Using the colors red, yellow, and green, the method labels each risky situation based on the ability of a team to address it.

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In an ideal world, medical professionals would do everything in their power to eliminate every manner of preventable error, because they would have to pay for the consequences of mistakes. Medical malpractice lawsuits are supposed to work somewhat in that manner–requiring hospitals to pay for the consequences of their inadequate care, spurring them to make changes that eliminate harmful care.

Yet, a troubling new Yahoo Health article is a reminder that in a perverse way, many hospitals actually profit from making medical mistakes. That is because the mistakes cause patients more harm, requiring even more care—and hospitals get paid for that extra care. This cycle of more and more treatment is obviously bad for the patient, bad for insurance companies, and bad for taxpayers footing the bill on much medical care. Hospitals are the only ones to benefit. All of this is one key reason why more are looking at alternative ways to make medical payments–like “managed care” systems.

Profitable Medical Errors

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When considering improper conduct by hospitals administrators and staff members, most focus is on medical errors. Medical malpractice rules requires professionals to act prudently at all times. When those standards are not met and harm befalls a patient, then a malpractice lawsuit might be filed.

But focusing only on medical mistakes–things like surgical problems, medications errors, and more–does not adequately cover all of the ways that a facility can disrespect patient rights and cause very real mental, emotional, and physical harm. Sadly, the drive for profits occasionally leads facilities to act inappropriately. Sometimes this involves trying to “get rid” of patients who, for whatever reason, are not as profitable. Because of certain insurance rules and other financial factors for patients, some hospitals skirt ethical rules in trying to get patients out of their facility.

Shuffled into Nursing Home

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Can anything good come from medical malpractice? It is easy for local residents to be overwhelmed by anger, sadness, frustration, and grief in the aftermath of a medical error that causes significant injury or even death. Obviously everyone would prefer that the mistake never have happened. But each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm often explains to families that steps can be taken so that the tragedy is not all negative. When a doctor or medical facility is held legally accountable for their errors, then changes are often made (or mandated) which prevent mistakes in the future. Helping to improve the system in this way is just one of several reasons that families should not allow medical errors to be swept under the rug.

Along the same lines, ProPublica recently shared information on another way for community members to participate in discussion and ensure lessons are learned from medical mistakes. ProPublica is a free online journalism watchdog that exists to provide in-depth, helpful, and incisive information to consumers on any number of issues, including things like hospital safety and nursing home mistreatment.

ProPublica has a Facebook page which includes a “Patient Harm Group” where those affected by these problems come together to share their story, spread advocacy messages, and otherwise use synergy to educate and act as a force for good. Summarizing the efforts, a ProPublica article recently explained that “the [Facebook] group – among our efforts to use social media in the service of journalism – has grown into a robust forum for discussion and learning for participants and reporters alike.”

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It is easy to get swept up in the reality of patient safety statistics which show that hundreds of thousands of patients continue to suffer preventable injury every year as a result of medical mistakes But focusing solely on the significant work still ahead can result in missing out on certain area where progress has been made or is being made. Even though our lawyers work with those harmed by negligent medical care, we are not oblivious to steps taken by some medical providers and facilities to cut back on certain problems.

For example, recently Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center shared encouraging news about a new research effort which found a decrease in the number of MRSA bloodstream infections when certain very basic cleanliness practices were followed. The story explains how a new research effort analyzing 75,000 patients found that two simple steps could decrease the developments of various infections, including the often-deadly MRSA, by 44% What were those two steps? Clensing intensive care patient skins every day with antiseptic wipes and applying an antimicrobal ointment to their nose. Thats it. The research, revelaed for the first time at a recent conference in San Diego (IDWeek), offers a great step forward that can be adopted by facilities across to country to limit infection and save lives.

As we often explain, there are simple safety and cleanliness steps that can be taken by all healthcare professionals which often means the difference between significant preventable injuries and far lower preventable injury tallys.

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Safety matters in hospitals. Attorneys, patient care advocates, and others often harp on the current gaps in overall patient care quality. That is because there are still so many lives to be saved and injuries to be prevented by adherance to high quality safety protocols all of the time. Much of that advocacy is focused on actual malpractice–violations of professional standards of care that cause harm to unsupecting patients.

However, there are actually other dangers in medical facilities that are not exactly related to malpractice. Instead of violations of professional standards of care, even basic acts of negligene might occur in a hosptial that causes harm. For example, hosptials and staff members must be diligent and aware of the dangers posed by certain pieces of basic equipment, like bed rails. Far from being a safety device themselves, advocates have vociferously argued that these rails actually present serious risks of harm for those using them.

This point was discussed helpfully in the latest newsletter published by Biomedical Safety & Standards. The article noted how many consumer watchdog organizations have been making serious calls for bed rail reforms to entities like the Federal Trade Commission. The basic argument is that these bed rails pose serious safety risks, requiring changes in marketing practices, consumer warnings, and perhaps even recalls. According to the report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted at least 525 deaths caused by bed rails. That is on top of the 125 documented cases from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These tallys should not be taken as definitive analyses of all incidents, as many sitautions are often not reported.

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Comprehensive patient safety efforts undoubtedly include addressing issues on a wide range of fronts. There is not a single type of error, and so many different solutions are needed to eliminate different mistakes–from medication problems to lapses during surgery. We’ve seen them all with our work in Chicago and the rest of Illinois on these cases.

One underappreciated facet to many of these problems, however, is relationships. How medical professionals and staff members treat each other and interact together in the workplace has a huge effect on the quality of the work they provide to patients. This is not all that surprising, considering work environment is a critical factor in all employment setting–an unhappy or disrespected worker is rarely a high-performing worker. But, in the medical setting the lives of others are on the line, and so the need to eliminate personnel problems is critical.

Respect & Hospital-Acquired Infections

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On many occasions we have discussed the staggering cost of malpractice both on patient lives and healthcare costs. Estimates suggest that each year nearly 98,000 people die and around $55 billion is spent because medical mistakes. The toll has led many experts to spend time and effort working to better understand why the errors are made and what can be done to prevent them.

One of the easiest but most effective ways to provide better care involves the use of medical checklists. Reuters recently discussed new research which highlighted the benefits. The latest data indicates that almost a third of all malpractice claims would be eliminated if checklists were used in all cases. The improvement would specifically be seen in surgeries, as the vast majority of mistakes actually occur during those operations.

The checklists include reminders of obvious but occasionally overlooked processes that are vital to proper care. They list simple acts like proper scheduling, ensuring equipment availability, marking the correct operating location, and similar actions so that the professionals ensure that nothing is overlooked.

A surgeon who has written often on the issue explained, “This kind of evidence indicates that surgeons who do not use one of these checklists are endangering patients.”
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