Concerns about the proper vetting of medical malpractice and negligent physicians by state medical boards continues to be a hot topic nationwide. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers consider this increased awareness to be a good thing. With so much media attention focused on taking rights away from those hurt by medical errors, it is important to return the focus on the underlying issue that matters most: How do we make sure our hospitals and medical centers are as safe as possible?
For many the answer to that question, in part, goes back to actions taken by state oversight bodies to monitor qualifications and conduct of individual professionals and medical institutions. Patients have come to expect that the state will work to ensure that those not properly qualified to practice medicine will not be allowed to do so. Similarly, it is assumed that the state has standards that must be met by hospitals. If those standards are not met or if facilities have repeated instances of misconduct that harms patients, it is hoped that the facility will not be allowed to continue seeing patients.
But is this how it actually works?
An investigation by the Connecticut Health I-Team suggests that, at least in that state, the oversight function is severely hampered. The investigation found that instances of blatant medical negligence, like wrong-site surgeries and the development of bed sores, have actually increased in the last five years. This was the case even though there seemed to be an increase in resources attempting to tackle these problems. If reducing the instances of these problems were of paramount concern for state officials, one would assume that action to curb the seemingly growing problem would be taken. That action hasn’t been taken.
In fact, analysis of the situation found that state investigations are incredibly rare following adverse events like patient falls, clear surgical errors, and similar mistakes. Even looking at only the most clear-cut cases of misconduct, only one or two incidents in ten receives any attention from state officials. Not only that, but this data only includes self-reports of errors from hospitals. Studies into the validity of self-reports have found, expectedly, that they drastically underestimate the total errors committed by facilities.
Perhaps the most shocking finding in this particular effort was the fact that the investigation rates of these self-reported errors actually dropped considerably over the last five years. The total investigation rate fell from 27% in 2007 to less than 20% today. The fall in regards to certain areas was even starker. For example, in 2007 the investigation rates for patients who had developed pressure ulcers was at 36%. Five years later the investigation rate is now 8%. That means that even when the hospital admits errors occurred, in only the rarest of cases do state investigators do anything about it.
The Illinois medical malpractice lawyers at our firm are not surprised by these findings. We have long known that the civil justice system is one of the few places when many of these negligent facilities are ever held accountable for errors. This accountability is crucial, not only to provide redress for victims, but to spur changes at the facilities that might improve safety and prevent future harm.
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