Studies performed by independent review agencies have shown that medical malpractice is a leading cause of death in the United States. Some estimates put medical malpractice as the third leading cause of death, behind heart attack and cancer, resulting in up to 400,000 deaths each year. Since the hospital industry has successfully lobbied state and federal legislatures for special interest legislation that allows them to cover-up their medical mistakes, and hide behind the peer review privilege to hide errors and conduct investigations in secrecy, the true incidence of medical malpractice is unknown.
Patients and their families are naturally wary of medical care. Most people have only a passing understanding of medicine. In fact, many people hold many misconceptions about medical care, leading to a cottage industry of phony cures and unnecessary treatments. When the public’s naivete about medicine is coupled with Big Medicine’s aggressive push for profits, even proven medical procedures, surgeries and medications are overused.
Despite these statistics and sinister profit-driven practices that put patients at risk of personal injury and wrongful death, the public continues to hold both the medical and nursing professions in high regard. When investigating a medical malpractice lawsuit, it is important to focus on the systems errors, driven by hospitals who cut corners and under-staff, to focus the jurors on the lack of medical safety that is driving medical malpractice rates in the United States.
Medical safety can be addressed in a number of ways. First, professional guidelines and recommendations are helpful in establishing acceptable standards of medical and nursing care. When doctors and nurses fall below accepted standards of care, they are, by definition, guilty of medical negligence and nursing negligence. Unfortunately, many professional societies do a poor job of publicizing updated recommendations and guidelines. In addition, many recommendations and guidelines contain disclaimers that are meant to neutralize the standards of care when used in litigation.
Another source of medical safety information is The Joint Commission. The Joint Commission (TJC) is a hospital accrediting organization that audits hospitals’ practices to ensure that they meet certain standards. Unfortunately, the TJC is an entity created by hospitals for hospitals. Therefore, the audits are predictable. Hospitals employ a team of compliance officers whose job is to prepare for TJC audits.
Medicare guidelines offer another standard for patient safety. Before Medicare will reimburse a healthcare provider, a healthcare provider must certify that the care provided fell within the boundaries of Medicare regulations. Unfortunately, Medicare regulations are limited and not very specific. Compliance centers largely around avoiding fraudulent reimbursement practices. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has published a list of “never events” that identify outcomes that are unacceptable under any circumstances in the hospital setting. Some States, responding to pressure from the medical lobby, have enacted laws that prevent medical malpractice lawyers from introducing evidence of never events in trials where a never event occurred. Never events include injuries caused by giving the wrong medication, performing an operation on the wrong patient, operating on the wrong site (e.g., amputating the left leg when the right leg required amputation), leaving behind a surgical instrument after a surgery, falls, or miscommunication of laboratory results such as biopsy results.
Miscommunication of test results and drug prescriptions are two areas where medical mistakes are often fatal or cause serious injury. In an effort to avoid such injuries, various professional organizations have adopted rules for safe communication of test results. For example, the American College of Radiology requires a radiologist to orally communicate significantly abnormal imaging results (e.g., MRI, x-ray or CAT scan) directly to the ordering physician, in addition to transmitting a formal written report. Likewise, the College of American Pathologists (CAP) has detailed labeling requirements on pathology slides so that biopsy results are accurately communicated.
For a medical malpractice lawyer in Cleveland, OH, medical safety is at the heart of every medical negligence trial. Medical mistakes and medical errors do not happen in a vacuum. They result from a lack of safety systems or when individuals fail to follow safety standards.
Thanks to Mishkind & Kulwicki Law Co. for their insight into medical safety and malpractice lawsuits.