Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice

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Even with High Cost of Malpractice Insurance, Preventing Medical Errors Should Remain Focus of All Doctors

On March 25, 2019 WalletHub, a consumer-finance research website, released a report which ranked Illinois as the 40th best place to practice medicine in the United States. Researchers analyzed all U.S. states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions, “Opportunity & Competition” and “Medical Environment” and then evaluated those dimensions using 18 weighted metrics, graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for practicing doctors.

Those 18 metrics include:

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Electronic Health Record Issues Serve Important Purpose in Malpractice Cases

An American Journal of Emergency Medicine study found an emergency room doctor will make approximately 4,000 computer clicks related to electronic health or medical records (EHR) over the course of one single shift. Although the evolution of a medical record turned electronic has been positioned to save money, eliminate mistakes in medicine and bring higher-quality and transparent care to patients, the painful truth and untruths of EHRs and related technologies continue to be known as physicians express angst and sometimes fear of using the systems.

Today, 96 percent of hospitals have adopted the patient and medical care tracking technology so there is no doubt room for user error sits ever-so present for billions of Americans, putting them at risk for death and serious injury. Software glitches and other flaws can also go unseen and contribute to disastrous patient safety and privacy issues.

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History of Common Malpractice Errors May Be Unknown to Patients

A recent investigation led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA Today and MedPage Today found that even when surrendering a medical license because of unprofessional conduct such as sexual assault, medical malpractice or prescription abuse, physicians simply leave their bad history in one state and move their practice to another while continuing to make deadly mistakes as risky medical experts. Equally disturbing is that if a physician voluntarily surrenders his license, the public may not ever be able to access or gain knowledge about why the surrender occurred. Although the National Practitioner Data Bank has more than 1.3 million records of “adverse actions” going back to 1990, files can only be accessed by hospitals, insurers, and state medical boards. Individual states can file a complaint, but only if prompted to inquire of a physician offender’s harmful patient history.

Additional investigative findings published in December 2018 from the news organizations included:

“We need to hold institutions accountable…this can’t just be a hashtag. It has to be real action and the way to do that is through changes in our legal system.” 

-Melissa Hoechstetter, victim of Robert Hadden, former Columbia University gynecologist

A civil lawsuit in New York was filed this week, accusing a top New York City gynecologist of sexual abuse.

Earlier this week we pointed to an Observer story that discussed in detail a case of doctor discipline gone awry. The bad doctor in that case was described in horrific terms by his own colleagues. Yet, even though those who saw him operate on unsuspecting patients went to great lengths to warn others about his poor skills, it took months and months before any official action was taken. In the meantime, at least two patients were killed and several others paralyzed as a result of his malpractice.

Doctor Discipline – Patients Should Come First

This topic has received significant attention over the past few weeks, as various other media outlets have honed in on the consistent problem of lackluster enforcement by state medical boards. A USA Today article–which we also discussed–provided similar examples of chronically negligent doctors who are allowed to see patient after patient. The problem is not limited to a single state or practice area. It is widespread.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have been affected by a medical error, you may contact a lawyer. This first contact may take the form of a phone call or perhaps sending an online message. After that an in-person meeting will likely take place where more information is shared and the legal professional attempts to determine if you have an actionable claim.

Pursuing a medical malpractice claim is an expensive proposition. The time and cost of preparing court documents, conducting depositions, hiring expert witnesses, and the many other tasks are significant. For that reason, not just any possible case can be advanced. Virtually all of these matters are taken by attorneys on a contingency fee basis. This means that the attorney/law firm fronts all of those costs, only collecting if they are successful in recovering a settlement or award for the plaintiff. If they are not successful, then those costs are lost. For this reason, attorneys are careful when meeting with potential clients, understanding their situation, and considering whether to pursue the matter.

But what analysis goes into determining whether a claim is likely to succeed and worth pursuing? It is a complex answer that involves different factors.

Last week Forbes published a helpful primer that goes over many general, but critically important and practical topics related to medical malpractice. Considering the large number of people who may one day be affected by a medical error, it is helpful to re-visit some of the general issues that all Illinoisans should know about the legal ramifications of medical negligence.

For one thing, as the article notes, everyone should understand the full scope of the problem. Negligence by medical professionals is not a fluke occurrence–it is the third leading cause of death in the country behind only heart disease and cancer. Every 43 seconds there is another payout in some form–settlement or court judgement–as a result of a medical error.

Considering that a large number of errors go without legal consequence, this is a truly staggering number. According to recent estimates, even though about 200,000 people are killed every year as a result of medical malpractice, only 15% of personal injury cases relate to medical errors. This is in large part because of the expense and complexity of these legal cases. Proving malpractice can be challenging, because of the nuance in the law and the cost of hiring experts, etc. This is one of many reasons why it is important to have the aid, as soon as possible after an incident, of an experienced attorney. The legal professional can provide advice on the likelihood of success.

It is the same in any profession: the longer you work the more real-world skills you obtain. Learning about time pressures, unique clients, office dynamics, work-life balance, how to handle an emergency, and other issues can generally not be learned from a book. No matter how long one is forced to train and study before entering a field–from medicine and law to accounting–there is no replacement for on-the-ground training that comes with experience. Obviously this is something that society has understood since the earliest days with the use of apprenticeships and other training programs.

Most consumers also understand the value of experience. It is no wonder than many professionals, including doctors and lawyers, prominently display their years and manner of experience so that prospective clients and patients understand what they are getting.

When It Truly Matters

The safety of all consumer goods is critical. But the need for tight standards to control systematic manufacturing or design problems is perhap most important when it comes to the porducts that are used in the medical profession. Medical tools and devices are often involved in very invasive actions, and if there is a problem the potential for serious harm is greatly heightened. In fact, there are even some products that are actually implanted into the body and stay there. If those medical devices have problems it is almost inevitable that there will be severe consequences for the patient.

All those working on these products are well aware of these risks, and regulators are charged with providing necessary oversight to ensure basic safety standards are met. Patients are unable to determine the safety on their own, and so they rely on the good work of designers, manufacturers, and public regulators.

Unfortunately, history is a reminder that those standards are often not met. For example, several hip implant products have recently been pulled from the shleves but not before affecting thousands of patients who were harmed by the defects in the devices. These metal-on-metal hip replacement products include those made by Strker and DepPuy, two of the leading companies in the field. Our lawyers are working with those in Chicago and throughout Illinois who have been harmed by these products.

The “typical” medical malpractice case involves something pretty clear: a patient receives the wrong medication and is injured, a surgeon accidentally makes a mistake which causes harm, or a diagnosis is botched leading to long-term problems. In all of these incidents a medical patient does not receive care up to reasonable standards and the patient is harmed as a result. But it is not always that simple–and complex legal issues might arise in those more atypical cases.

Third-Party Liability in Med Mal Cases

For example, not long ago one state court addressed an issue related to third party liability for medical mistakes. The case involved a doctor who failed to explain how a patient’s medical condition would affect her driving ability. The patient subsequently drove recklessly and caused serious harm to another. The patients had liver and kidney problems which come with latent driving risks. She wasn’t warned about those risks and blacked out when behind the wheel–causing the serious accident.

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