Articles Posted in Delayed Diagnosis

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“Safety advocates said that without access to public data, it has been too easy for hospitals to excuse poor outcomes by blaming mothers’ health problems.”

-USA Today

Hospitals Blame Mothers When Things Go Wrong

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“To know that this happens is our country, that’s unacceptable.” 

-Sue Sheridan, patient safety advocate, in To Err Is Human

The medical malpractice attorneys of Levin & Perconti recently watched To Err Is Human, a newly released documentary showing the frequency and impact of medical errors upon American families. To see the facts relating to the frequency and severity of medical errors combined with the heart wrenching story of a family forever changed by these mistakes has left a lasting impression on all of us.

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The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit group dedicated to hospital safety, has released their biannual Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade report, showing an overall improvement in Illinois hospitals since the spring. According to Leapfrog, the survey measures hospital patient safety by the number of “errors, injuries, accidents, and infections.” Participation by hospitals is optional and this fall, 110 Illinois hospitals agreed to take part. According to the data collected, Leapfrog rated Illinois hospitals as #13 overall, an improvement from #15 this past spring.

In a time where the increasing problem of medical errors is finally being given the platform it deserves, the survey is more relevant now than ever. The Leapfrog Group, citing an often quoted 2016 Johns Hopkins study, notes that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. Patient safety and healthcare provider accountability is essential for all hospitals and healthcare organizations. Below is our analysis of the Fall 2018 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade report for participating Illinois hospitals.


Illinois & Metro Chicago Hospital Results

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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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“Today, this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.”                                                                          -USA Today: “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.” (July 27, 2018)

Last Friday, USA Today published a report with findings from their investigation into hospital records and personal stories and has concluded that hospitals are failing mothers by missing symptoms that indicate serious maternal complications. The report, entitled “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.,” shared the CDC’s statistic that 50,000 women a year in this country suffer a serious complication during delivery. Around 700 mothers die a year.

These statistics alone might not sound significant given that there are nearly 4 million births a year in the U.S., but the frightening part is that despite being a wealthy, industrialized country, our maternal death rate is getting worse and is the WORST of any developed country. We are the only country besides Sudan and Afghanistan whose maternal death rate is on the rise, despite the belief by many that we have the best care in the world.

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A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings reveals that 54% of American physicians report feeling burnt out at work. Lead study author, Stanford pediatric physician Daniel S. Tawfik, and his team found that those experiencing burnout were TWO times as likely to have made a major medical error in the last 3 months. Study authors also believe that based on this information, 1/3 of all American physicians are experiencing burnout at any given time.  Researchers describe burnout as “emotional exhaustion or cynicism.”

The study questioned 6,586 physicians in active practice at an American hospital or clinic and asked them to report feelings of burnout, excessive fatigue, recent suicidal thoughts, their thoughts on patient safety on the unit in which they primarily work, as well as those who had made a major medical error. The authors found:

  • 54.3%  of physicians admitted feeling burnt out
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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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A February 10th article in Medical Economics tackles the issue of legal responsibility for physicians treating one of the estimated two million patients with a BRCA mutation or Lynch Syndrome. 1 in 400 Americans are carriers of the BRCA gene mutation, said to be associated with a 50-70% higher risk of developing breast cancer and a 15-64% higher risk of ovarian cancer. Lynch Syndrome, a condition linked to a 70% higher risk of colorectal cancer, is found in 1 in every 350 Americans. The condition is also associated with elevated risk of endometrial, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary cancers. The problem with these conditions is that experts believe nearly half of those who carry the BRCA gene or Lynch Syndrome will find out they have cancer without knowing previously that they are carriers, leaving medical economists to speculate that a potential legal crisis will occur when patients realize that a simple screening recommended by their physician could have ultimately prevented their cancer or saved their lives. Giving clarity to the magnitude of the potential situation, Medical Economics says that the average medical practice has 2400 patients, 6 of whom will be carriers of the BRCA mutation and 7 of whom will be found to have Lynch Syndrome.

Giving Detailed Family History Could Save Your Life

Under the Affordable Care Act, most insureds who meet a specific set of criteria are eligible for cancer and genetic screening and according to Medical Economics, millions of them have not been referred by their doctor for testing. The journal recommends physicians obtain a complete family history as it relates to cancer, using whatever method of collection will gather the most thorough information without adding to an already robust workload. In the case of obtaining a proper cancer history for each patient, experts agree that the time spent to gather the information is a worthy cause. Even allowing a patient to self-report information through an electronic questionnaire that can be imported into their electronic medical record (EMR) is beneficial.

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Beyond aiding in the recovery for those affected by medical errors, malpractice lawsuits also play the critical role of ensuring hospital safety stays on the public radar. Without focused attention on the need to identify problems and improve, there is the risk of facilities getting caught in a rut–doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the errors that result.

The focus on malpractice does not exist only in newspapers. Medical researchers and academics are also drawn to the topic to study exactly what types of errors are most common and how they can be prevented.

For example, earlier this month international researchers published the results of a detailed study of a medical malpractice claims to understand what forms are most frequent. The findings were shared in full in the online version of the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open). The abstract and full text of the report can be found here.