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Are Hospitals Doing all they Can to Ensure Patient Safety and Decrease Instances of Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death Suits?

Are hospitals doing all they can when it comes to patient safety? The February issue of Washingtonian magazine addresses that very question in an article entitled “Minor Mistakes, Deadly Results.” The story presents some alarming data when it comes to this issue. Despite touting stringent procedures in the operating room and on the floor, medical malpractice certainly isn’t a thing of the past: In 2010 alone faulty medical care contributed to the deaths of 15,000 Medicare patients per month. The author writes that hospitals “are hierarchical organizations resistant to change, they haven’t done enough to create environments in which patient safety is a priority.” 15,000 deaths per month is a rather hefty number, and it may just get at the core reason why hospitals have been reluctant to publicly share patient-safety data. The Institute of Medicine has estimated preventable errors resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths annually in US hospitals.

In many cases, hospital mistakes are easily avoidable – a fact which raises key questions for wrongful death attorneys about internal structure and methodology. Washingtonian recants one instance in 2009 where the hospital staff’s failure to follow physician orders resulted in an elderly woman contracting an infection in her leg. The woman was taken to another hospital where her leg was amputated, but five months later she died from complications. An investigation the DC Department of Health revealed that staff had only to take off the patient’s compression stockings after each shift for at least 30 minutes.

The hospital settled out of court and continues to deny liability, but this case and ones like it give many people cause for concern, especially since the problem only seems to be getting worse. And we haven’t even touched on wrong-site operations yet. Doctors sometimes operate on healthy body parts in lieu of actual damaged areas, another dangerous mistake that can be attributed to a breakdown in communication. “On September 22, 2010, Nadege Neim, a 28-year-old married medical student, was admitted to Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital to have a cyst on her left ovary removed,” writes the article author. Instead, Neim’s doctor removed her right ovary and fallopian tube. It was a mistake she didn’t notice until a month later when she began complaining of pain in the right side of her pelvis.

In my research I often come across news articles in which medical facilities laud their programs. In them hospitals indicate that they are moving towards an increase in patient-safety, citing the use of checklists, hand-washing rules, transitioning to digital records and breaking down hierarchical communication barriers as tools of efficiency. These tools do provide a certain amount of success. An estimated 40 “wrong-site” operations occur in the US each week, but checklists have helped reduced that number. Using checklists consistently helped Johns Hopkins decrease ICU bloodstream infections by 90 percent. Unfortunately though, for every article like that, however, there are two more decrying hospitals and staff for “doctoring” their statistics.

So what is the root of the problem? Communication, communication, communication. Identifying the issue is easy, but finding a remedy is hard. I think Carol Haraden of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nonprofit, hit the nail on the head when she said, “Because of the hierarchical nature of hospitals, in which the senior doctor is the leader, there often hasn’t been a culture of collaboration and teamwork.” And fostering such an environment is going to continue to be an uphill battle as medical facilities continue to be entrenched in tradition. Until a significant change comes, medical malpractice and wrongful death attorneys will continue to fight on behalf of those who find themselves at odds with a hospital. If you feel you are a victim of medical malpractice or a loved one has passed due to a medical mistake, our attorneys are here to help.