Medical Malpractice: Ripples in the Minds of Physicians and Patients

Last year, in Alabama, A Walker County jury awarded $4 million to a widow.  She claimed that her husband had died due to the negligence of a medical expert who had mistaken a heart attack for stomach ache symptoms.

The charge sheet stated that an emergency department (ED) medical expert at the Walker Baptist Medical Center was supposed to take more care.  The steps taken in investigating the heart condition of the 40-year-old patient, before releasing him within a few hours of being hospitalized, were not enough.  Just after a few days of his release, before he could tell his wife to dial 911, the patient had fallen clutching his chest.  He could not be revived after reaching the hospital.  As no blood tests for ischemia or cardiac damage were prescribed by the physician on his earlier visit, it was put forth by the family’s attorney that the appropriate standard of care was not in place.  According to the attorney, more action was necessary to rule out any cardiac problems.

Ripples Reach the Patients

Many such cases of hospital negligence make you chastise the physicians who allow such accidents to take place – right?  There are others that make you cringe and say, “Oops…I was indeed lucky. I faced a similar situation.”

It is a known fact that health care providers do make medical mistakes in the form of unavoidable errors, understandable misdiagnosis, lack of attention, poor quality of care, or mere carelessness.  It is patients like you who end up suffering the brunt of their errors.  Be it in the form of personal injury, medical negligence or wrongful death, there are many fears that make one think twice about getting hospitalized, or seek an appointment with a specialist.  But then, is there any way out?

Fear Factor: Medical Malpractice

Today, the threats and challenges of being sued for malpractice linger in the mind of medical practitioners—and for good reasons too.  Heart attack, stomach ache, or a simple fracture – it is now important for physicians and medical experts to be doubly sure before signing on the discharge slip of their patients.

The New England Journal of Medicine has published a study that reveals how 99% of physicians — placed in the “high-risk” specialties category — have been involved in a case at some point in their career.  There are innumerable surveys that show how medical experts in the “low-risk” specialties group also have a strong chance of being sued, at least once in their entire career.  There’s small comfort in knowing that two thirds of such claims have been either dismissed or dropped.  According to an American Medical Association report, 90% of the time, it’s the physicians who prevail when a medical malpractice case goes to trial.

Impact of Medical Malpractice Cases

Though you may be thinking otherwise, do know that it is indeed agonizing for a doctor to know that his care has caused some kind of injury to a patient.  Along with facing a strong threat to his reputation, the physician may have to deal with challenging financial risks.  He also needs to address various issues while practicing/interacting with future patients.

Over the years:

  • There have been innumerable cases that rank high on the list of largest settlements or verdicts in the nation’s history.
  • Doctors have been summoned hundreds of times and have also faced state disciplinary actions for their misdoings.
  • In almost every state, malpractice cases tend to take at least 4 years to reach their conclusion from the time of alleged negligence.  Some cases have taken 10 years to gain a resolution – a long, traumatic phase for patients and doctors alike.
  • Basic risk-management failures have often been the cause behind the filing of such lawsuits.  Absence of adequate documentation, miscommunication among nurses and physicians, non-essential delays in recommending patients to specialists, follow-up failures, and so forth, are just a few common reasons why patients have sued their medical experts.

Although there are some positive changes in the malpractice climate in recent years, the fear of being victimized, and sued, still persists.  We can just hope that physicians steer clear of the reasons that put their patients into trouble, and avoid getting sued.


References:

  1. Sonny Bal, M. M. (2008, November 26). An Introduction to Medical Malpractice in the United States. Retrieved October 2, 2015, from NCBI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628513/
  2. Faulk, K. (2014, August 20). Walker County jury awards woman $4 million in medical malpractice case. Retrieved September 30, 2015, from AL.com: http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2014/08/walker_county_jury_awards_woma.html
  3. Rizzo, S. (2015, September 30). J. Supreme Court sides with doctor on malpractice. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from NorthJersey.com: http://www.northjersey.com/news/nj-state-news/n-j-supreme-court-sides-with-doctor-on-malpractice-1.1421496
  4. Robeznieks, A. (2010, September 13). Medical malpractice: The fear factor. Retrieved September 30, 2015, from Modern Healthcare: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20100913/MODERNPHYSICIAN/100919992
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