Recently, the cases of two young children left brain dead have captivated the country, after both girls underwent what were supposed to be “routine” medical procedures.
In one case, a 3-year-old girl from Hawaii has been declared brain dead after suffering cardiac arrest while undergoing a root canal. It was later determined the girl was given a large dose of powerful medications during the procedure, and may not have been properly monitored.
In California, the family of a 13-year-old girl is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over whether they should be allowed to press for continued care after she was declared brain dead following a reportedly botched surgery to correct her sleep apnea.
Although these heart-wrenching cases certainly deserve the coverage they are receiving, the reality is that routine procedures – and not always surgeries – are often behind Tuscaloosa medical malpractice claims.
This point was recently underscored in the latest report from CRICO Strategies, a branch of the Harvard Medical Institutions, Inc. The report, “Malpractice Risks of Routine Medical Procedures,” was released in December and analyzes some 1,500 medical malpractice claims related to non-surgical procedures between 2/?p=1007 and 2011. These claims resulted in a total of $215 million in medical malpractice pay-outs.
What they found was that, consistently, there were six primary medical procedures that revealed a heightened risk over and over again. Those procedures were:
These are seemingly benign procedures that end up resulting in serious injury and even death. (Although about two-thirds of these incidents resulted in relatively minor injuries, about 14 percent resulted in the death of a patient.)
In almost 9 out of 10 of these claims, skill-based errors were to blame. That is, there was a mistake by the doctor. But beyond the erroneous judgment of the physician, the researchers found that often a major factor in the error was a shortcoming in policy and practices of the institutions for which these doctors worked.
What this study shows is that medical malpractice claims don’t always stem from the work being carried out in emergency departments, operating rooms or the intensive care units. In some cases, these procedures involved out-patient doctor office visits.
The president of the National Patient Safety Foundation was recently quoted as saying that an increasing number of these procedures are being performed outside a hospital setting, and therefore an increase of adverse events are being reported.
Almost without exception, doctors didn’t enter their chosen career so they could hurt anyone. In fact, probably the opposite. And many of them are likely overworked and exhausted. But that doesn’t excuse an error that results in a major injury, illness or death.
Doctors who don’t familiarize themselves with a patient’s full history or who fail to take proper precautions to prevent and recognize infections have a higher likelihood of finding themselves as defendants in medical malpractice cases.
Malpractice Risks of Routine Medical Procedures, Dec. 19, 2013, CRICO Strategies, Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions Inc.
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