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Boston Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Doctor tried to cover up wrong-site brain surgery

Eleven years after a surgeon operated on the wrong side of a patient’s brain and attempted to cover it up, the hospital where he worked has been ordered to pay $2 million to the patient and his family. Few wrong-site surgical errors could have so profound an effect on a patient’s health as removing healthy parts of a brain, as this surgeon did.

According to Outpatient Surgery, the victim was 15 when he underwent an operation to remove a lesion on his brain. The hospital invited a reporter from the local newspaper to observe the procedure and take photographs, with the consent of the patient’s parents.

Who pays the bill after a surgical error?

Besides causing injury and suffering to the victim, medical malpractice can be very expensive. A 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that a surgical patient’s bill more than triples, on average, when there are complications -- going from about $17,000 to $56,000.

If the complications that result in additional surgery were due to a preventable error by the surgical team, then it is clear who should pay these extra costs. But often, it is unclear whether an operation went wrong because of medical negligence, the risks of the operation, the patient’s condition, or another reason, as The Washington Post reports.

Mass. med schools to step up anti-painkiller addiction training

In our country’s “war on drugs,” one problem that is gaining increasingly more attention is addiction to prescription drugs, especially painkillers. Many of these powerful drugs are highly addictive, and patients who take them at first to deal with chronic pain often find that the pills have taken over their lives. Trapped in their addiction, they go from doctor to doctor, searching for someone who will write them their next prescription.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous doctors take advantage of addicts. They write prescriptions after little to no examination, often in exchange for cash. Other times, the doctor simply lacks the competence to prescribe painkillers in a way that minimizes the risk of abuse, or to help patients who have fallen into addiction.

The vital role communication plays in medical diagnosis

The National Academy of Medicine reported that diagnostic errors often result in devastating consequences for patients. In fact, an error in diagnosis reportedly is a factor in 10 percent of patient deaths. Hundreds of thousands of individuals every year face tragic consequences because of some caregiver's failure to timely diagnose their medical condition. And ultimately, allegations of failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis are at the center of a large number of medical malpractice cases.

One radiology department chair, serving on the committee publishing the National Academy of Medicine report, stated that poor communication is "the greatest stumbling block" among healthcare providers. She further added that effective communication involved more than just the medical staff: it also meant clearly communicating with patients and their family members.

Hospitals can be secretive about mistakes

Experienced medical malpractice attorneys have long known that it can be difficult to discover information about a mistake made in the operating room. The patient is usually sedated or unconscious, after all, and has no idea what is going on during surgery. And in the U.S., unlike in many other countries, most surgeries are not recorded.

Hospitals are very reluctant to disclose errors to patients. This reluctance puts well-meaning patients in a difficult spot: they just want to get better and know what is wrong. But without knowing specifically the error involved, it can be difficult for patients to realize why their health has not improved after surgery. In some cases, the delay can lead to tragedy.

Abdominal pain said to be misdiagnosed by ER docs 1/3 of the time

If you ever get a stomachache so bad that you have to go to the emergency room, watch out: there is a good chance that ER doctors will misdiagnose your condition, according to a news report.

A study recently released by the Baylor College of Medicine suggests that one in three people who come to the ER with acute stomach pain wind up getting misdiagnosed. Out of 100 high-risk patients whose cases were included in the study, 35 experienced a diagnostic error. The most frequently misdiagnosed illnesses that cause stomach pain were urinary-tract infections and gall bladder problems.

How often do anesthesiologists make drug mistakes during surgery?

Before a surgery takes place, a doctor or surgical nurse will sit down with the patient. In this pre-operative meeting, the doctor will explain the surgical procedure. There is a measure of uncertainty in any surgery, which is why a doctor will discuss the health benefits as well as the potential risks or side effects.

When a patient suffers serious complications beyond the realm of the pre-operative discussion, it is easier to suspect medical malpractice. When the complication falls into the category of “potential risk or side effects,” how do patients know if a mistake was made? How often are doctors making these mistakes?

Advanced patient-record systems: where money could be well-spent?

A patient and LifeHealthPRO columnist recently wrote about his back-to-back medical appointments. They were “different” to say the least. While there may have been some personality variations between staff members, technology was the driving factor in making these two experiences drastically different.

Let’s start with the less technologically advanced facility. The patient was, in his words, a “long-time patient” and that they “had all of [his] information.” When he went into the office, he had to fill out a form repeating everything. When he went into the patient room, the nurse asked him repeat the information again so that she could include it in his patient records.

Does increased spending increase quality of care?

New, attention-grabbing research out of the British Medical Journal has indicated that specialists who spent more on patient care were less likely to be sued for medical malpractice. The study looked at 24,000 physicians in Florida over nine years. Researchers published their findings on November 4, 2015. 

The study gets at the heart of the practice of "defensive medicine," in which doctors attempt to limit their legal liability for failing to diagnose a patient by throwing every test, scan and any other available tool into diagnosing a patient's condition. 

How an MS misdiagnosis can lead to a med-mal lawsuit

Multiple sclerosis, also referred to by its short-hand name MS, is a disorder in which the body's own immune system attacks the fatty material that surrounds the nerve fibers, causing damage in the process. This damage, which can occur in places such as the optic nerve, brain and spinal cord, prevents the body's nerve fibers from sending signals correctly, which can result in symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, numbness or tingling, pain, and difficulty walking, just to name a few.

As you can imagine, early diagnosis is key to receiving prompt treatment that could mitigate the damage suffered during attack episodes. In fact, some research suggests that, compared to patients not taking any MS medications, patients who do receive MS medicine early on are less likely to suffer disability in the short term. After considering this, you too may think getting an early diagnosis is a good idea as well.

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