3rd Leading Cause of Death – Medical Negligence

Joe Schulte was getting ready to visit his wife at the hospital when he received a call informing him that Paula, his wife, had fallen out of her hospital bed in the ICU.  When Joe arrived at the hospital, the hospital staff assured Joe that Paula was fine.  Except for a little discoloration and abrasions on her right arm, she seemed all right.  The doctor ordered a scan of Paula’s head and X-rays of her right shoulder and upper arm which showed no injuries.  Being sedated, Paula was unable to speak, but the hospital staff assured Joe that everything was fine.

Four days later, Paula was discharged to a nursing home.  No longer sedated, she complained of pain in her right wrist and hip.  The records at the nursing home show that her wrist was swollen at the time of her admission.  Doctors at the nursing home ordered more X-rays and found that her right wrist and right hip were both broken.  Both breaks would require surgery which would mean putting in an artificial hip and a metal plate for her wrist.  The hospital staff at Lawnwood said that they may have missed the broken bones because Paula was sedated and could not communicate about her pain.

Not wanting to send her back to Lawnwood, Joe admitted her to St. Lucie Medical Center, where she was under the care of Dr. Shute, an orthopedic surgeon.  On August 24, 2012, Paula underwent surgery where her hip was replaced and a metal plate affixed to her right wrist.  Five days later she returned to Emerald Health Care for physical therapy.  Caregivers noted swelling and yellow discharge from the incision on her hip.  Three weeks after the operation, Dr Shute diagnosed two infections on her hip joint.  He opened the wound and cleaned out the infection.  The explanation that Joe received was that “these infections sometimes happen.”  To combat Paula’s infections, a port was installed in her chest and she was given Cefepime, a drug that has a warning issued by the FDA, as a cause of non-conclusive seizures.  Paula’s condition however, kept deteriorating further, until finally she was put on life support equipment.  Joe took stock of Paula’s suffering and decided that it was too much – he decided to let her go.  On his instructions, doctors unplugged Paula from life support and she was no more.

Medical Negligence on the Rise

An increasingly prevalent problem in the US, medical negligence is now the 3rd leading cause of patient deaths.  Although the exact numbers are not, and probably will never be known, medical negligence causes the death of more than 100,000 people annually in the US alone.

The majority of people believe that errors in treatment are made by inexperienced doctors or surgeons.  The truth however, is that even the most experienced doctor or surgeon make mistakes that lead to serious consequences for their patients, including death.  Medical errors occur more frequently that you would imagine.  Mistakes due to staff shortage, overworked healthcare personnel or improperly trained staff are a common feature in the medical world.  According to several research studies over the last decade, the deaths due to medical errors per year can be broken down as:

  • 12,000 deaths due to unnecessary surgery
  • 7000 deaths due to medication errors in hospitals
  • 20,000 deaths due to other errors in hospitals
  • 80,000 deaths due to infections contacted in hospitals
  • 106,000 deaths due to the negative effect of drugs administered.

Most doctors, in fact the majority of them, will face a medical malpractice lawsuit at some point in their career.  However, nearly 80 percent of these lawsuits will end up with no payouts at all.  In order for a medical malpractice suit to proceed, it has to be proven that the medical professional violated the general standard of care as set forth.  The burden of proof is on the patient or their families to show that there was indeed medical negligence that caused the harm.  Despite these stipulations and the fact that most cases of medical negligence never reach the courts, roughly $39 billion has been paid to affected patients and their families, between 1986 and 2010.


References:

  1. Allen, M. (2013, September 19). How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals? Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://www.propublica.org/: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-many-die-from-medical-mistakes-in-us-hospitals
  2. Barbara Starfield, M. (2000, July 26). America’s Healthcare System is the Third Leading Cause of Death. Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://www.health-care-reform.net/: http://www.health-care-reform.net/causedeath.htm
  3. Cheeks, D. (2013, May 16). 10 Things You Want To Know About Medical Malpractice. Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/: http://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2013/05/16/10-things-you-want-to-know-about-medical-malpractice/
  4. McCann, E. (2014, July 18). Deaths by medical mistakes hit records. Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://www.healthcareitnews.com/: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/deaths-by-medical-mistakes-hit-records
  5. Medical Negligence Now 3rd Leading Cause Of Death In U.S. (2015). Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://personalinjurybureau.com/: http://personalinjurybureau.com/medical-negligf-death-in-u-s/188/
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