Articles Posted in Uncategorized

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A study led by a group of physicians at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston reveals that paid medical malpractice claims decreased by 55.7% between 1992-2014. Medical malpractice lawsuits have become the scapegoat for skyrocketing medical and insurance costs but as the study proves, the number of payouts and claims have only fallen. The only catch? The average payment amount went up by 23.3%, as well as the number of $1 million plus payments, meaning that while lawsuits are happening with less frequency, the mistakes they’re seeking to rectify are likely larger than the years prior to the study. What sets this particular study apart is that the authors set out to find what specialities were paying out the most claims with the ultimate goal of using the information to ‘help inform decisions about the approaches needed to simultaneously improve patient safety and reduce liability.”

Pediatricians Seem to Be the Gold Standard 

The great news is that all specialist payouts have decreased, with the largest drop seen among pediatricians. From 1992-2014, the number of claims paid by pediatricians fell 75.8%. The number of claims paid by cardiologists fell 13.5%. Neurosurgeons had the highest number of payouts during that period, while dermatologists had the lowest.

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As we all continue to await voting on H.R. 1215, a house-introduced bill that would limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice, nursing home, product liability, and pharmaceutical cases, we are constantly reminded of the impact medical error can have on one’s life.

This month, a Colorado woman was awarded $15 million after unauthorized use of an epidural steroid known to cause severe neurological problems. The woman suffered a stroke from the medication and is now paralyzed from the waist down. The woman, Mrs. Robbin Smith, told CBS4 Denver that “Our life has changed forever. I died that day, I completely died that day.” Colorado is one of a handful of states that have passed legislation limiting the amount of non-economic (also known as punitive) damages. Despite a $15 million jury verdict, the second largest malpractice verdict in the state’s history, Mrs. Smith will only receive a capped amount as allowed by Colorado law – likely less than 1/3 of the full amount awarded to her.

Doctors Ignored FDA Warning

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Public Policy Polling (PPP) recently released data from phone polls conducted in late March on the topic of H.R. 1215, a House bill that will be voted on in the next several weeks. H.R. 1215 seeks to limit non-economic damages to $250,000 in medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, prescription and OTC drug and medical device lawsuits. PPP asked the same set of questions to between 500-700 registered voters in 7 red (Republican) and purple states (those that have voted both Republican & Democratic in the past several elections). Polling only red & purple states was intentional, as  Republicans have traditionally leaned towards tort reform, the act of limiting medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits in favor of protecting big corporations. PPP found that in the polled states of Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Alabama and Arizona, support for H.R. 1215 was virtually non-existent, with over 60% of polled citizens in every state disagreeing with the bill.

Even more impressive was the percentage of voters in each state that believed nursing homes should be held accountable if acts of negligence caused the injury or death of a loved one. The amount of support for nursing home abuse and negligence lawsuits was 77% at its lowest (Florida), and 86% at its highest (Georgia).

Finally, each state’s opposition to H.R. 1215 grew stronger as the person conducting the phone interview gave more information on the bill to voters.

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In a recently published OpEd on The Hill’s online news site, author Paul Bland points out the inconsistency in GOP principles in pushing H.R. 1215, the bill that aims to limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice and nursing home neglect & abuse cases to $250,000. The passage of such a bill at the federal level would also supersede the policies in many states that have already contemplated this issue and, in certain states, enacted their own legislation.

Republican Policies Centered Around Less Federal Intervention

Traditionally, the GOP has supported bills and policies that limit the federal government’s role and give power to the states in which citizens live. Their argument is that there’s no one more equipped than state lawmakers to decide what legislation should pertain to its residents. If one follows their line of thinking, it is nearly impossible to connect Republican-backed H.R. 1215 to their long standing history of preserving states’ rights. The bill is an absolute contradiction to the foundation of the GOP’s belief system.

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In a co-authored investigative report by ProPublica and The Atlantic, journalist David Epstein outlines the epidemic being played out in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices around the country. Despite evidence to the contrary, physicians frequently are prescribing medicines and treatments that are not necessarily the safest choice for patients. Epstein describes how factors such as not keeping up with current research, relying on popular but unfounded research findings, profits, and bending to demanding patients has led to over invasive treatments and tests, useless medication therapies, and even severe injuries and death.

A Tale of Two Stents

The report begins with the stories of two patients who both were recommended for stent placement. One, a high-stress middle-aged man with chest pains and high blood pressure, used Google to second guess his doctor’s stent recommendation. He avoided the procedure entirely by seeking a second opinion and remains healthy and stent-free. The second man was a 51 year old stage IV lymphoma survivor who, after rounds of chemo and radiation, was suffering from lung scarring. He went to the hospital with chest pains from the scarring and despite his prior cancer history was given a stent, along with medication that would prevent blood clots arising from the implantation site of the stent. Months later, the man’s scarring had progressed to the point where a lung transplant was needed. The anticoagulant medications from the stent had to clear his system before a transplant surgery could take place, or else the man could bleed to death. While waiting for the blood thinners to wear off, the man suffocated to death due to the scar tissue that had invaded his lungs. Using the stent stories of two men with two drastically different outcomes leads to the main point of the report: Widely-known and frequently used procedures are not always the right choice. American College of Cardiology recommendations have been altered to clarify which situations merit stent placement and this has reduced the number of needlessly placed devices. However, in the stents that are implanted, a recent study revealed that half of them are unnecessary. It is important to note here that stents are recommended and have been proven to be beneficial in patients who have suffered a heart attack.

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Levin & Perconti has just settled a medical malpractice lawsuit against Mt. Sinai Hospital, recovering $3.6 million for the estate of Alberto Mendez, who died after improperly administered anesthesia after a cascade of medical oversights. Mr. Mendez’s estate was represented by Founding Partner Steven Levin, Partner Margaret Battersby-Black and Associate Jaime Koziol.

“A Perfect Storm”

In 2012, Mr. Mendez visited the emergency department at Mt. Sinai hospital with obvious symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a disease that arises from muscle injury and causes muscle fibers to release their contents into the bloodstream. Leaked contents such as potassium can cause serious complications if left untreated, including kidney failure and even death. However, if timely interventions are implemented, rhabdomyolysis is treatable. What happens next has been described by Ms. Margaret Battersby-Black as a “little bit of a perfect storm.” Despite presenting with obvious symptoms that easily led to his diagnosis, Mr. Mendez’s potassium levels rose unnoticed by staff, allowing his overall condition to worsen and cause compartment syndrome in his thigh. Compartment syndrome occurs when a muscle injury causes pressure to build up in a part of the body, ultimately causing muscle death and requiring surgery. Doctors determined Mendez needed a consult on his condition. 2 hours after that determination, surgical residents evaluated Mendez and reached the conclusion that he needed a pressure-needle test to measure the pressure buildup in the affected thigh. 3 hours after calling for the test, it was finally administered, showing that his pressure level was at 80 millimeters of mercury. 5 mmHg is considered safe. 30 mmHg requires emergency surgery. While Mr. Mendez was prepped for surgery, his anesthesiologist, Dr. Constanta Alexandreanu, referred to a 12 hour old potassium level test and administered a drug that is specifically not recommended for patients with elevated potassium levels. The paralytic anesthetic, succinylcholine, caused Mr. Mendez to go into cardiac arrest 30 minutes after it was administered. He passed away 28 hours after his admission to Mt. Sinai.

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A report by the Institute of Medicine has brought attention to the frequency of diagnostic errors in healthcare and the outcomes of such mistakes. The report analyzed data from several studies, relying heavily on one particular study led by an accomplished physician from Johns Hopkins.

What is a Diagnostic Error?

An error is more than just assigning an incorrect underlying cause to a set of symptoms. Diagnostic errors are classified as one of three types: misdiagnosis (attributing symptoms to the wrong disease or condition), delayed diagnosis (failure to identify a diagnosis until a later time when symptoms and the underlying condition have become more progressed), and missed diagnosis (failure to attribute symptoms to any condition or disease). The study estimates that the rate of diagnostic errors is between 5-15%, with a much higher rate associated with certain types of cancers and disease. In many cases, a delayed, missed or misdiagnosis can result in serious injury and even death.

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In our continuing fight to protect patients’ rights and to combat H.R. 1215, a proposal that would cap a patient’s right to fair compensation for medical errors and negligence, we would like to take the opportunity to share more evidence to contradict the myth that medical costs are skyrocketing due to malpractice costs.

Fact vs. Fiction: Medical Malpractice

Below, please see some of the most commonly cited arguments in defense of limiting medical malpractice payouts and review the truth about these so called facts.

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This is one of the most urgent issues we have ever had to feature on our blog. Within the next two weeks, H.R. 1215, also known as the Protecting Access to Care Act, will be voted on in the House. If it passes, it moves to the Senate for a vote and then onto President Trump for approval before becoming law. Although the name of the act sounds promising, the summary is this: H.R. 1215 will limit your ability to receive anything in excess of $250,000 in non economic damages. This means that if a serious preventable medical error or a complete lapse of care in a nursing home occurred, you would not be able to recover more than $250,000 to compensate you or your loved ones for the loss of many liberties you may have once enjoyed, including your life. All it takes is a look at some of our verdicts and settlements to see just a handful of the atrocities that have taken place against ordinary American citizens.

Before we go any further, we’d like to ask you to spend 30 seconds notifying congress that you do not support HR 1215. Please click here to enter your zip and/or full address to have an email auto generated to your senators.

Restricting Legal Settlements Does NOT Lead to Better or Cheaper Health Care

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Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Republican senator who is best known for his unsuccessful 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, is guilty of saying one thing and doing another.  In 1999, Santorum’s wife, Karen, sued her chiropractor for $500,000 after his treatment of her sore back caused further injury that required surgery. Former Senator Santorum testified in the case that his wife’s quality of life had been diminished, with the injury having harmed her active lifestyle and her ability to keep up with household tasks. Mrs. Santorum was awarded $350,000 (she ultimately received $175,000).

Hypocrisy

Just 5 years prior to his wife’s lawsuit, Santorum fought to implement legislation that would place a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering, the very injustices that he testified his wife had to face after receiving poor care. Not surprisingly, when pushed by the media on the issue during his 2012 presidential bid, Santorum said that his wife did not sue for pain and suffering.  Instead, he argued that his wife fought to be compensated for lost income and costs stemming from the injury (medical costs associated with her injury and surgery were shown to total less than $20,000). The judge who initially presided over the trial later reduced her award to $175,000, citing Mrs. Santorum’s own words that the operation gave her “immediate relief” and that she required no further treatment after the surgery.