Some immediately assume when hearing the phrase “medical malpractice” that it immediately involves a clash between medical professionals and legal professionals. In popular parlance–particularly when discussing political fights dealing with malpractice–the storyline always portrays the legal industry and the medical industry at odds with one another.
But that is a drastic oversimplification that, among many things, distorts the real complexity of medical errors.
For one thing, attorneys working on these matters do not simply take any case that walks in the door. Virtually all lawyers will listen to concerns of potential clients and take the case only if actual negligence seems to have occurred and the means to win damages as a result of the negligence is possible. Lawyers are not out to “stick it” to doctors every chance they get.
Additionally, in many situations, medical professionals themselves step up and try to correct problems of systematic medical negligence, if they see it. Some medical errors are one time lapses of judgement resulting from unique conditions–a tired doctor or an absent-minded aide. ALternatively, other errors are a product of systematic issues at the facility which open the door to repeat errors. One of those most common systematic problems: understaffing
For example, last week Medscape News reported on the results of a new study which examined the link between registered nurse staffing levels and infections in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). As you might expect, the more qualified nurses on staff, working to provide the close care that these infants need, the better.
A new study examined the ratio of nurses to patients in the NICU at different institutions. The findings were alarming.
For one thing,”understaffing” when compared with qualified recommended staffing levels, was pervasive. Over the two years of the study the understaffing rates were at 47% and 31% — in other words, it was not a problem isolated to a few areas. Even worse, those infants in the most perilous conditions were more likely not to have the staffing that they needed.
In addition, unsurprisingly,the study authors found that understaffing correlated directly with increased infection rates for those infants. The researchers argue that a lowering levels from the guidelines by .1 nurse per infant led to a shocking 40% increased risk of infection.
What does this mean?
Nurses are overworked and many hospitals are understaffed. This is all directly tied to administrator decisions regarding hospital finances. The result is that patients are significantly more likely to develop a hospital acquired infection, suffering serious long-term harm as a result. It is absolutely incumbent up all facilities not to prioritize profits over patients in this way.
It is perhaps not surprising that, as a result of many studies of a similar nature, the nursing community has worked hard to press hospitals to increase their ratios to protect patients. Far too many patients continue to enter the hospital for help with one ailment only to develop and infection and suffer even more serious consequences–the youngest and oldest patients are especially at risk.
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