Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice

A recent editorial published by CNN delves into a critical issue that perennially lies underneath various policy making proposals at the local, state, and federal levels–the need to protect patient legal rights. Fortunately, we have not heard as much this election cycle about tort reform proposals as we have in the past. But it is critical not to assume this means that the issues are behind us. Not only do we need to fight for the rights of those who live in places where laws already severely limit their right to fair compensation following malpractice, but there are always new threats made by insurance companies and big medical interests to press for more changes.

The CNN editorial, written by the President of the American Association for Justice, points out that tens of thousands of patients are killed each and every year as a result of preventable errors. Hundreds of thousands (perhaps even millions) more are hurt unnecessarily as consequence of those mistakes. When taken as a form of injury, medical malpractice is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. The consequences are not only medical–there are very real financial losses. According to the editorial, every year nearly $27 billion is spent unnecessarily because of this negligence.

All discussion about changing the legal rights for patients and their families must keep those stats in mind. Unfortunately, the discussion often ignores those safety issues. We must keep bringing it up so that the real consequences of medical malpractice are part of the discussion.

The UCLA Newsroom reported this week on a new clinical study that took a look at how the development of pressure sores at hospitals ultimately impacted the patients who developed those sores. As blog readers likely know, these pressure sores are serious skin breakdowns that often affects patients in hospitals and residents of nursing homes. Also known as pressure ulcers or bed sores, these injuries are almost always preventable with proper care. Re-positioning, grooming, hydration, and proper nutrition are also key components of keeping patients healthy in this regard.

Pressure Sore Consequences

This latest research effort suggests that there is a direct correlation between the development of pressure sores and increased hospitalizations and patient deaths. In other words, these sores are not minor problems that cause inconvenience to patients–they are serious. It is critical that all healthcare providers treat them as such.

It goes without saying that there is little room for error when it comes to medical products that are inserted inside a patient body. It is absolutely imperative that all mistakes be avoided when patients agree to have a device surgically installed in their body to treat a certain ailment. Unfortunately, there are many cases of various objects their either do not work as intended or actually cause more harm. In those cases, lawyers often fight hard to ensure the affected families have their legal rights respected.

Spinal Implants Problems

One of the more recent examples of this scenario involves BMP spinal implants–like one known as Infuse. Some “off label” uses of the device may actually cause injuries and harm to patients.

Transparency and accountability are buzzwords when it comes to improving patient safety and limiting medical malpractice. The idea is that if hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are held accountable for their mistakes–and if those past problems are made available to the public—then patients will make decisions based on the quality of services they are likely to receive. Essentially the economic laws of competition will apply to improve care.

But for all the talk about the need for more accountability and transparency in the caregiving process, we still have a long way to go, including here in Illinois.

“Operating in the Dark”

One common question asked by those hurt by medical malpractice is: what damages can I receive? Attorneys usually explain that your potential economic recovery will depend upon many factors. However, many victims are not aware of the different types of recovery available to them and, in some situations, even their family members.

Please find a basic primer below to help explain potential damages in these civil malpractice cases…

General damages

Patient safety advocates, lawyers working on medical malpractice cases, and others often sound like a broken record when reiterating the significant cost of medical mistakes. The common analogy pulled from an Institute of Medicine study reminds that the problem of deadly medical errors is equivalent to four jumbo jets full of people dying each and every week.

In other words, the problem is incredibly prevalent–it is not something that only happens to “others”–chances are it will one day affect many of our lives.

The repeated calls to explain the scope of the problem is an attempt to spur action to change things. The sad reality is that the total number of people hurt (or killed) by medical errors has remained constant for many years. We are not making many improvements, and more and more residents are being harmed as a result. A recent Wall Street Journal article written by a doctor argues that some simple steps can be taken to save lives. He notes the a big problem is that doctors do not learn from past mistakes. He writes that “the same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.”

The civil justice system is often complex and frequently drawn-out. The lengthy nature of many cases–including medical malpractice suits–is certainly evident in situations where agreements are not reached beforehand. Cases that go to trial last quite some time, and the matter may not be settled even after a verdict. That is because any party can appeal the resolution to a higher court. It is not easy to get the court to act in any way contrary to the lower court, but it is possible.

For example, My Central Jersey reported last week on an appellate court that reversed a lower court decision in a medical malpractice case. It is a testament to the drawn-out nature of these cases, and the intricate evidentiary rules that often swing cases one way or another.

The Wrongful Death Suit

A medical doctor published an article in the Newsweek recently that reminds all patients that hospitals are not quite as safe as we suspect. The article is an excerpt from the doctor’s book: Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care.

The author notes that he had a wake-up call about the dangers of care when he was in medical school. He watched with dismay as an elderly patient of his died after a procedure that she did not need or want. The author explained that the drive for doctors to perform certain medical actions (in this case, surgery for ovarian cancer) was “like a train no one could stop.” This lead the medical team to understate the risks and overstate the benefits. During the biopsy before the procedure a needle accidentally punctured a blood vessel causing many different problems–including a six week hospital stay. She died not long after–spending most of her final weeks in the hospital undergoing blood transfusions, CAT scans, facing malnutrition, and more.

Keeping Med Mal Secret

When a resident in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois files a medical malpractice lawsuit they are seeking both redress for their individual harm and accountability to help others in the state.

It is self-evident that accountability for past conduct influences future conduct. Beyond med mal suits, another important accountability function involves public database and reporting systems. The more comprehensive the database, the better. There are clearly many good things that come from understanding how many medical errors occur, in what form, and where. However, patient safety advocates understand that we have a long way to go, because it is difficult to get these reporting protocols to be comprehensive. There are many incentives to underreport problems, and it is incredibly difficult to check the accuracy of the reporting.

New Medical Error Reporting System

Over the past week we discussed how virtually all of the claims made by proponents of tort reform do not hold water. Of course, in focusing so much on the wrongful claims about “benefits” of tort reform we risk ignoring perhaps the most important issue of all: the negative effect these laws have on patient safety and fairness. Even if all of the tort reformers claims were true (which they are not) that still does not mean that it is logical to take away redress for medical victims and lower accountability for those who commit preventable errors.

Medical Errors

Once again the Center for Justice & Democracy Med Mal Briefing Book is helpful in illustrating the point. Over a decade ago the Institute of Medicine noted that nearly 100,000 patients may die and nearly $30 billion spent every as a result of medical errors. Recent work since then shows that the scope of the problem remains essentially unchanged.

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