Albany, New York Personal Injury Blog

Medical mistakes may be more common than previously thought


New York residents might think that advances in technology should make medical mistakes a thing of the past, but a recent study shows that medical negligence is responsible for a staggering number of illnesses, injuries and deaths in hospitals around the country. A report by the Institute of Medicine completed in 1999 showed that approximately 98,000 people per year died from mistakes attributed to medical malpractice. In 2010, that number rose to 180,000 Medicare patients alone, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services.

A brand-new study in the most recent edition of the Journal of Patient Safety gives even more extreme statistics, estimating that anywhere from 210,000 to 440,000 patients each year suffer harm at the hands of hospital staff that results in death. If these facts are substantiated, medical malpractice will effectively become the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer.

However, the American Hospital Association begs to differ with the numbers put forward in the most recent reports, arguing that the number probably still hovers close to the 98,000 estimate found in 1999. In reality, there is likely no way to know for sure exactly how many injuries and deaths that occur in hospitals can be attributed to mistakes by the members of the medical staff though experts hoping for more transparency in health care are pushing for an accurate way to keep track of these types of statistics.

Mistakes made by doctors and other members of a hospital’s medical staff can have hugely detrimental effects on a patient or his or her family if death is a result. A personal injury lawyer who concentrates his or her practice on medical malpractice cases could evaluate the case to see if there is a viable claim against the medical facility involved.

Source: Pro Publica, “How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?“, Marshall Allen, September 19, 2013

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Simple practices can prevent infections in hospitals


New York residents who are headed to the hospital may be interested to learn that about 5 percent of all patients hospitalized in the U.S. acquire an infection in the hospital. It costs the healthcare system billions of dollars a year. Infections at the site of surgery and ventilator-associated pneumonia are among the most frequent infections, each amounting to about a third of the 441,000 hospital acquired infections that occur each year in the nation. Next were bloodstream infections caused by tubes delivering fluids, amounting to about 19 percent of all infections. Infection with Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea, was the culprit in 15 percent of all the hospital-acquired infections.

Bloodstream infections were the most expensive to cure, costing about $45,000 each time they occurred. Pneumonia cost the health care system about $40,000 per case. It takes about $11,000 to cure a C. difficile infection. All told, infections acquired in hospitals cost a total of about $10 billion each year. Previous estimates came in at $20-40 billion, leading some researchers to believe that progress is being made in the right direction.

About 70 percent of central line bloodstream infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia could be prevented if hospital staffs would simply follow the best practices. These are the most expensive infections to cure. Half of all surgical site infections could be prevented just by cleaning the patient’s skin properly and checking his or her antibiotics dosage.

These statistics, all from the Centers for Disease Control, do not mention if these infections acquired by patients in hospitals are life threatening or how many patients have died as a result. Some cases in New York involve medical negligence. An attorney may be able to investigate the case if someone feels that a loved one has suffered due to medical malpractice. An attorney could consult with medical experts, determine fault and seek fair compensation.

Source: Reuters, “Hospital infections cost U.S. $10 billion a year“, Anne Harding, September 12, 2013

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Five patients may have been exposed to fatal brain disease


New York residents may be interested to learn about a disease that could be affecting east coast hospitals. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health believes that five people were potentially exposed to a fatal brain disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The possible exposure happened after all five of the patients underwent surgery with medical equipment that was used to operate on someone who had the disease.

As standard sterilization procedures are not sufficient to denature the proteins, called prions, that cause the disease, reusing the equipment even after sterilization may have been a medical error by the hospitals. However, even if patients were exposed to the brain disease, authorities believe their risk of developing it is low. Because all five of the patients underwent spinal cord surgery and not brain surgery, there is a smaller chance of infection. The announcement about the possible exposure happened the day after the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services announced the possible exposure of eight other patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been no outbreak of CJD linked to contaminated medical equipment in nearly 40 years. The disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that is thought to be caused by misfolded proteins, and it affects less than 400 people in the United States every year.

As this case shows, medical mistakes may lead to patients contracting infectious diseases, some of them very serious or fatal. If a patient has been infected due to a doctor error, they often choose to seek compensation for this malpractice. Compensation can help someone pay for the treatment that they will need as well as compensate for their loss of enjoyment of life.

Source: CNN, “Fatal brain disease potentially affects five people in Massachusetts“, Julia Lull, September 06, 2013

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NFL kickers file for workers’ comp


New York football fans may not realize the risks that kickers and punters take on the field. The players may be at risk to sustain brain injuries, according to claims by NFL kickers and punters in another state. In California alone, there have been almost 3,500 head trauma claims filed by California football players. About 75 percent of the claims brought by football players in the state are regarding brain injuries.

One analysis of California workers’ compensation data said that 64 former kickers and punters have filed claims against their former NFL team for head or brain injuries since 2007. The number grows to 109 claims when calculated from 1990, including 82 placekickers and punters. Kickers and punters may be specifically hunted down during punts. However, being aggressively knocked down may lead to brain injuries, which can in turn lead to dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The NFL has already agreed to pay $765 million in order to settle existing lawsuits. These lawsuits stem from allegations from 4,500 former players and their families who claim that the league hid information regarding their risk for sustaining brain damage by playing the sport.

A physician error could cause a patient to have insufficient oxygen and lead to a brain injury. Brain injuries can also be caused by trauma. They can be quite significant and may lead to permanent disability and the need for long-term care. A medical malpractice attorney may be able to file a complaint against the negligent physician or healthcare provider. They may be able to pursue compensation on behalf of the victim to cover the extensive medical expenses that are often related to these claims.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Kickers, punters file brain injury claims against NFL in California“, Ken Bensinger, August 31, 2013

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Review system allows dangerous doctors to practice medicine


For years, consumer groups and politicians have voiced concerns over the operation of state medical boards, which are supposed to hold physicians accountable for their patients’ health and safety. However, there are physicians around the country, including in New York state, who continue to practice medicine despite being accused of grave medical errors and mistakes. In some instances, these physicians have paid millions of dollars in malpractice claims and lost clinical privileges at hospitals and other health care institutions.

The National Practitioner Data Bank compiles information on doctors who have had their clinical privileges restricted or revoked. It also collects information regarding medical malpractice judgments and settlements. The state medical review boards are supposed to use this information to determine if a physician’s license to practice medicine should be revoked or restricted. However, in almost 50 percent of cases, an investigation found, these matters do not get reported to the Data Bank.

There are real-life consequences to these administrative failings. For example, a physician in Louisiana lost clinical privileges at his hospital but maintained a clean medical license despite paying more than $2 million in malpractice claims arising out of numerous malpractice cases, including five wrongful deaths. In another case, a patient died after a physician improperly prescribed medicine. He continued to practice and prescribe medicine while he was undergoing disciplinary review. Within a year, another patient was improperly prescribed medicine that led to her death by mixed drug intoxication.

Despite the best intentions of medical review committees and state medical boards, it is nevertheless very common that physicians with a history of medical errors will continue to treat patients. These patients are almost always unaware of previous errors the physician has made. Lawsuits initiated by medical malpractice attorneys may be another way to hold these physicians accountable for their mistakes and to compensate innocent patients who are injured as a result of medical malpractice or negligence.

Source: USA Today, “Thousands of doctors practicing despite errors, misconduct“, Peter Eisler and Barbara Hansen, August 20, 2013

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Woman needs more surgery after surgery on wrong leg


A patient recently woke from surgery only to discover her surgeon had operated on the wrong leg. He also operated on the correct leg. However, he didn’t explain he only did so after a nurse anesthesiologist caught the error when the wrong-site surgery was underway. Most hospitals across the country, including those in New York, have procedures in place to prevent the problem of wrong-site surgery. Nevertheless, this surgical error occurred despite those safeguards.

In this case, after operating, the cardiovascular surgeon told the patient that the other leg needed to be done anyway because of her history. He asked her to sign a consent form without telling her it had been a wrong-site surgery. Although the hospital administrator knew about the error the next day, the hospital did not report it to the health care administration agency in the state where the surgery took place for 15 days. In an interview with the agency, the surgeon said he hadn’t told the patient operating on her other leg was a surgical mistake because he was thinking about himself and “justifying what was done.”

In the meantime, the patient developed infections in the incision sites for the vascular graft surgery on both legs. That has necessitated another eight or nine surgeries under anesthesia. Moreover, she won’t be able to return home as planned and must enter a nursing home.

Surgeons are highly trained, but human errors still occur. Someone who has problems because of a surgical error might find it helpful to talk to a medical malpractice attorney. They are able to answer any questions someone has about wrong-site surgery or other errors. In addition, they might be able to help obtain compensation for medical care as well as for pain and suffering.

Source: Med City News, “Wrong-site surgery leads to more surgeries for patient and more problems for Florida hospital “, Jameson, Marni, August 16, 2013

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Autism linked to medically induced labor, according to research


New York residents may be interested in a recent study that links induced labor to an increase in autism spectrum disorder. The study found that babies that underwent an induced labor have about a 13 percent potential increase in their chances of autism.

Induction is the process in which a doctor intervenes in order to begin labor early. This can be necessary when there is danger to the child or mother, or the pregnancy is past its due date. In 2008, 23.1% of births in the United States were caused by induction. Another process, known as augmentation, is used when the doctor needs to help the birthing process along, usually through medication.

The researchers examined data from over 600,000 live births in the North Carolina Detailed Birth Record and Education Research database, of which 5,500 were diagnosed with autism. The data showed that mothers who induced pregnancy were 13% more likely to have a child with autism, but this number jumps to 17% when the delivery is augmented. When both induction and augmentation are used, the study found that 27% of children were susceptible to autism. Despite these results, some doctors caution that expecting mothers should listen to their medical professionals, and not assume that their risks for autism will go up just because of induction procedures. Other causes are found to increase autism risk, such as obesity, diabetes and fetal distress.

The effects of delivery complications or fetal distress can last for the lifetime of a child. There may be long-term care issues and extraordinary medical expenses due to the actions of a negligent doctor or nurse. An experienced and qualified attorney may be able to help compensate the parents for the damages caused to the newborn by a doctor’s or hospital’s negligence.

Source: CBS News, “Induced labor may increase risk of autism in offspring“, Michelle Castillo, August 12, 2013

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Hospital initiates reforms after woman’s death


One New York hospital has reformed their practices after a woman died due to medical negligence. According to the report, it was discovered in 2010 by doctors that the woman had an abnormal lung nodule. She was not informed of the discovery. Within two years, she had lung cancer that spread to other internal organs. She died in early 2013 as a result of the cancer.

One news agency, which reported on the woman’s case during her final months, discovered that a hospital resident told the woman that her test results were normal. Over the next two years, the woman suffered from chronic breathing difficulties. The original x-ray, which indicated that the woman had an abnormal nodule in her lung, was not found until 2012. The woman passed away from the illness, leaving behind a daughter.

According to state and city officials, the hospital’s radiology department must now inform other hospital staff if there is an abnormal test result. In addition, the patients must be given their test results before they leave the hospital, or, if that is not possible, staff must follow up with the patient to inform them of the results.

The woman received a settlement for just over $600,000 from the city, though it was not stated in the report how the award was obtained. However, she could have potentially won millions had the mistake been discovered before the statute of limitations expired, which is 15 months after the accident occurred in New York.

In New York, those who are harmed by medical malpractice or negligence only have a short amount of time to file for compensation. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations begins when the mistake is first made, not when it is discovered by the patient. Therefore, a discussion with an experienced medical malpractice attorney may be beneficial to those patients suffering from hospital mistakes.

Source: New York Daily News, “Lavern Wilkinson lives on through Brooklyn hospital change after cancer death“, Heidi Evans, July 30, 2013

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Top hospitals perform poorly in surgical error ratings


Several leading New York hospitals have not fared well in ratings released by Consumers Union in July. The nonprofit organization, best known as the publisher of Consumer Reports, ranked 2,463 hospitals in all 50 states based on the quality of the surgical care they provide. They looked at the number of deaths among Medicare patients both during and after surgery and the percentage of patients who remained in hospital for longer than expected.

The ratings were based on the amount of surgical errors in 86 types of procedure that included hip and knee replacements, back surgery and angioplasty. Many well known and highly respected hospitals received only a mediocre rating, and even teaching hospitals that usually appear near the top of national rankings can often be found in the middle of the pack. On the other hand, several hospitals that serve poorer patients in urban areas did well.

The ratings have come under fire from hospitals that received poor grades. The methodology used by Consumers Union was criticized, and their data was accused of being incomplete. However, hospitals rarely release this kind of information to the public, and this lack of transparency was one of the motivations behind the new rankings. The Medical Director of Consumers Union called for hospitals to release information about patient outcomes in the same way that a public company must disclose financial records.

Hospitals and surgeons may go to great lengths to protect their reputations, but those reputations are no guarantee of a positive outcome. Cases involving surgical errors are often complex, and an attorney familiar with medical malpractice may be able to hold surgeons accountable if their errors cause serious injury.

Source: Reuters, “For surgery, big and famous hospitals aren’t always the best“, Sharon Begley, July 31, 2013

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The dangers of unsafe injection practices


New York residents who undergo medical treatment that involves regular injections may be alarmed to hear about how easily infections can be spread by unsafe injection practices and how many people these medical errors can affect. A 2008 outbreak of hepatitis C in Las Vegas was traced to a contaminated syringe, and in 2001, a nurse reused syringes for 16 months spreading the disease to 99 people.

A syringe can spread an infection even if the needle is changed, and it can easily contaminate saline or heparin flush solutions in an IV bag. The patients in the 2001 case were infected by saline that contained the hepatitis C virus while receiving injections as part of their chemotherapy treatment. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, found the events ‘dumbfounding and unsettling,” but the results of a 2011 study by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices indicate that hospitals are not doing enough to make sure injections are safe.

The study discovered that two percent of hospitals had no procedure in place to prevent the use of multi-dose vials and 24 percent had only partially implemented such a procedure. A 2010 survey of 5,000 health care workers by the American Journal of Infection Control found that many medical professionals often do not follow safe practices, and they often feel that changing the needle on a syringe was enough to ensure safety.

Doctors and hospitals are expected to take reasonable precautions when they treat patients, and having rules in place to prevent syringes being reused would seem to be a simple step for them to take. However, research suggests that this is not happening often enough. An attorney experienced in medical negligence and malpractice cases could be familiar with these kinds of errors, and they may be able to help victims of them receive compensation.

Source: Anesthesiology News, “Unsafe Injection Practices Remain All Too Common“, David Wild, July 23, 2013

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