Recently in Preventable Medical Mistakes Category

Injuries from Medical Mistakes and the Need for Reform

November 25, 2014

surgeons-1.jpgHundreds of thousands of patients in United States hospitals die from medical mistakes every year. There are no indications that injuries or deaths from malpractice are declining, either. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins illuminate recent studies from the country's top medical experts who are trying to enact fundamental change to protect patients.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published a report finding that patients who suffer medical mistakes rarely get an apology or even an acknowledgement from their doctors. They also found that, when officials did acknowledge the harm done to patients, it was often only because they were forced to.

About 30% of injured patients paid medical bills resulting from malpractice, with an average cost of over $14,000. Researchers guessed that, although doctors would like to be more open with their patients, they lack the moral courage to do so. The authors recommended that medical schools and training programs start introducing skills on how to best inform patients when mistakes are made.

Others in the field recommend similar alternative approaches to help curb medical injuries. In the past, medical malpractice issues have been left largely up to legislative bodies, with tort reform laws and limits on the amount of damages patients can collect. Since there is no evidence that injuries and deaths from malpractice are declining, alternative are obviously needed.

Perfect Time for Reform


A new analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that now may be the perfect time for alternative malpractice reform. Among these include communication and resolution programs, apology laws, judge-directed negotiations, and administrative compensation systems.

The goal is to have serious medical errors trigger a process that effectively allowed healing and learning for both doctors and patients. Unfortunately, the current process does not typically allow patients or doctors to grow positively from a malpractice event. Doctors resent the legal framework that forces them to practice defensive - instead of preventative - medicine. Meanwhile, patients continue to be injured in ever-increasing numbers, without any type of acknowledgement or apology afterwards. Often, all they want is an "I'm sorry."

The malpractice system must address two core issues: compensating patients wrongly injured, and deterring substandard medical care. The current system is mediocre at best, and relies almost exclusively on tort reform, which creates barriers to bringing malpractice lawsuits, limits the amount injured patients can recover, and changes how damages are paid.

About 30 states have passed laws placing a cap on the maximum amount patients can recover in malpractice lawsuits. This not only does not solve the problem, but further harms those patients who have already been injured. There are about seven types of nontraditional malpractice reforms in the works:

1. Communication and resolution programs - after an error is made, doctors discuss the problem directly with patients, seek resolution, offer apologies, and potentially offer compensation.

2. Administrative compensation systems - malpractice claims route to a system that uses experts, evidence-based guidelines, and compensation standards to offer patients resolution.

3. Safe harbors - laws that protect doctors who can prove they followed best-practices guidelines for the injured patient.

4. Mandatory pre-suit notification laws - injured patients would be required to give medical officials advanced notice that they intend to sue.

5. Judge-directed negotiations - patients and doctors meet with a judge who will guide them toward settlement with assistance from nonpartisan legal advisors.

6. Apology laws - any apology or admission of fault by a doctor or hospital would not be permissible to use in malpractice lawsuits.

7. State-facilitated dispute resolution laws - patients and doctors would voluntarily work with a state-appointed agency that would help resolve conflict, which may not be used in trial.

Continue reading "Injuries from Medical Mistakes and the Need for Reform " »

Hospitals to Release Medical Mistake Data

September 10, 2014

12134671045_b3dbbf9f31_c.jpgEarlier this year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stopped publically releasing mistakes made in hospitals, despite saying it would not do so. After public outcry CMS relented, stating it would again release the information by the end of 2014. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins cannot overstate how important it is to have this information available to the public, both for patient safety and to keep hospitals and doctors accountable.

Among the information retracted related to eight types of hospital-acquired infections, which affect at least one of every 25 patients, and kill more than 75,000 people every year. Some of the most deadly infections spreading in hospital are:

• Clostridium difficile, or c.diff
• Bloodstream infections, such as sepsis
• Surgical site infections
• Catheter-associated urinary tract infections

CMS also stopped reporting how often doctors leave foreign objects in patients during surgery, when patients are given the wrong blood type, and other egregious medical mistakes that should never occur. These rare events that should never happen in hospital are referred to as 'never events' and rare as they are, they are critically important for consumers to know about when choosing a hospital or physician.

Why is Hospital Transparency so Critical?


There has been much media coverage recently on the safety and price comparisons between hospitals - specifically, how significantly they can range. Hospital pricing is extraordinarily convoluted and the largest driver of medical care inflation. This isn't news. The New York Times ran an 8-part series starting in June 2013 titled "Paying Till It Hurts: A Case Study in High Costs." The series covers eight different types of patients, from pregnancy to E.R. visits, attempting to uncover why the U.S. spends more money on healthcare than any other country in the world by far.

Nowhere is this more obvious and outlandish than in the pharmaceutical industry. Due to the never-ending aggression of the pharmaceutical lobby, the average price for a cholesterol drug like Lipitor in the U.S. is about $124. In nearly all other developed countries, the price of Lipitor averages around $6. Several studies conclude that, despite the large difference in pricing, Americans do not receive better medical care than patients in other developed countries.

That is another blog for another time. What this is meant to prove is why it is so incredibly important for patients to have access to medical data. In an opaque market with even more opaque pricing practices, patients need to research the hospitals they are considering for surgeries, births, and even vaccinations. This rings particularly true for elective surgeries, such as hip replacements, for which the average U.S. price is more than $40,000.

In a system where patients do not see prices (and are often told to "not worry about the money,") until after the service is provided, data on past pricing and quality is invaluable. Between doctors, hospitals, medical companies and insurance providers, very rarely is anyone looking out for the best value for the patient; in fact, all of these entities have incentives to drive up prices. This means that patients must look out for themselves, and the only way they can do that is if medical care data is publically available.

"Never Events" Actually A Daily Occurrence


Another so-called never event, leaving foreign objects in patients, actually occurs about a dozen times every day in the U.S. This can occur during any type of surgery, and most often involve the cotton sponges doctors use to soak up blood. The sponge may be small, but it can cause a host of serious health issues, from permanent loss of intestines to death. The average amount of a hospitalization caused by a lost sponge averages over $60,000.

One victim was recently interviewed by USA TODAY: Erica Parks underwent a cesarean section in 2010 and left the hospital with a queasy feeling in her stomach. One month later, she was swollen and her bowels shut down entirely. She was sent to the ER, where X-rays showed a large infected sponge left in her abdomen requiring a six-hour surgery to remove followed by three weeks in the hospital.

Making matters worse, there is no federal requirement for hospitals to report such mistakes, despite reports that foreign objects left in patients was in the most serious category of medical mistakes. This type of mistake is completely preventable, yet it continues to consistently occur every single day. While there are numerous technologies that exist to cut the likelihood of this type of mistake, few hospitals (less than 15%) actually employee them.

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The Problem with Children's Emergency Care

July 21, 2014

my-brave-boy.jpgAmerican parents expect the treatment their children receive - whether it's at school, day care or at the hospital - to be the best, most compassionate care. Unfortunately, the majority of doctors working in emergency care units have had only minimal experience, an average of four months, working with children. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins further explain this problem and how American children are suffering the consequences.

Children are three times more likely to suffer a serious medication error than adults. Clinically, children are not just 'little adults.' Their metabolic rates are completely different, so medications dissolve at faster rates. Children often have undiagnosed allergies, and doses need to be adjusted for weight and other factors.

To help combat this, some hospitals are hiring staffs of full-time pharmacists in the ER to reduce medication errors and adverse events. Medication errors contribute to approximately 7,000 deaths in the country every year, and are particularly dangerous in children. The Children's Medical Center in Dallas, for example, was recently profiled on NPR for hiring ten new 24-hour pharmacists who specialize in emergency medicine.

The overriding issue, however, is that emergency room doctors are often young with little experience. Millions of children visit the ER each year, however, only one in ten children are able to see doctors with any real experience in pediatrics. The remaining 90% of kids are treated in general ERs, such as at community hospitals, where just four months of training in pediatrics is required.

Statistically, about 30% of ER patients are children; however, the education doctors receive in pediatrics represents less than 10% of their training. In 2006, the Institute of Medicine released a report titled "Emergency Care for Children: Growing Pains." In this report, the Institute describes the unique challenges facing emergency departments in their treatment of children.

Researchers involved in this project found that many general ER physicians feel much more stress and anxiety when caring for pediatric patients compared to adults. Too often, this causes doctors to under-treat and fail to stabilize children who are critically ill. Unlike adult patients, there are no established patterns for treating children in the ER, which leads to a wide array of treatments that may not always work.

Change is Coming


Fortunately, there are concerted efforts throughout the country aimed at fixing this problem. One of these programs, Improving Pediatric Acute Care Through Simulation (ImPACTS), conducted 200 fake pediatric emergencies in 25 emergency departments, the majority of which were in community hospitals. Their findings were alarming to say the least.

Among treatments for pediatric septic shock, only 13% of general emergency departments were compliant with treatment guidelines for children - compared to over 93% of pediatric EDs that were in full compliance. Community hospitals also showed severed deficiency in delivering life-saving fluids and blood pressure medications to children, and were much less likely to administer correct doses of other drugs or comply with other pediatric guidelines for life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest.

So what can be done? Experts agree that doctors need to receive more education regarding pediatric emergency care in their formal training, including mandatory continued education for emergency medicine residents targeted specifically toward pediatrics. There has also been immense effort put into incorporating functioning partnerships between community hospitals and children's hospitals. Collaborations of this kind will allow constant information exchanges, including educational forums, emergency consultations, and opportunities for continued pediatric emergency medicine.

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New Study Confirms 440,000 Deaths from Medical Negligence Every Year

May 12, 2014

the-stethoscope-31.jpgFor many years, the federal government asserted a very conservative 98,000 Americans were killed each year by preventable medical errors. New studies are finding what many experts know to be true - the number is actually much, much higher. In fact, around 440,000 Americans are killed annually by physician, hospital or nurse errors. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins dive deeper into these studies and why so many are killed my negligence.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety and was conducted to update decades-old data and official opinion on patient deaths caused by error. The Institute of Medicine and medical professionals constantly state that less than 100,000 Americans die annually from medical errors, however, that estimate is based on data from 1984.

Researchers involved in this study compiled medical records and studies published from 2008 to 2011, ultimately finding that the true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was over 440,000 per year. The amount of serious harm, but not death, done to patients was about 10 to 20 times more than this.

Those involved in this study called the prevalence of preventable medical errors an epidemic, and we hasten to agree. The reality of medical negligence needs to be taken much more seriously and publicly known if it is going to be reduced or curtailed in any way.

There are several interventions hospitals, patients and medical professionals can take to help lessen the frequency of medical errors. Among these include fully engaging patients and their families during hospital care, transparent and full accountability when mistakes do occur, systemically engaging with patients to identify precise injuries, and purposefully correcting the root of harm.

Medical errors cost our country tens of billions of dollars every year, yet federal and state legislatures limit accountability of doctors and place maximum amounts patients can receive from malpractice lawsuits. Not all states place damage caps on malpractice suits, but the ones that do (most notably California) leave patients at risk for more injuries from negligent care.

One in Three Hospital Patients Experience Medical Errors

One study published in the Archives of Surgery estimates that serious surgical mistakes occur about 40 times per week in U.S. hospitals. Serious surgical mistakes involve procedures performed on the wrong patient, on the wrong body part, or incorrect surgeries performed. These are also often referred to as "never events," because they should never occur in medical practice.

Medical care in the U.S. is extremely complex at all levels, and individual physicians generally do their best to optimize patient care. Guidelines and clinical research on how to apply optimal patient care quickly becomes out-of-date and is often biased, and the continuing education system for doctors is lacking. These among other factors are contributors to the knowledge and performance deficiencies in hospitals.

Patients can suffer injuries from medical errors immediately, or delayed for months or even years. For example, a patient may be injected with a drug using a needle contaminated by a harmful virus, like Hepatitis C, which may not be discovered until much later.

Continue reading "New Study Confirms 440,000 Deaths from Medical Negligence Every Year" »

Deadly New Orleans Outbreak leads to Questions on Hospital Safety

April 29, 2014

pediatric-polysomnogram.jpgSeveral children have died at the Children's Hospital in New Orleans after a horrifying outbreak of a flesh-eating fungus. The infectious fungus was spread by bed linens, towels and gowns, and new reports are raising serious questions about how the infections originated and why nothing was done to stop it for nearly a year. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins look into the serious and dire issue of hospital-acquired infections.

The details of the deaths at Children's Hospital are gruesome. The first victim was a premature infant in the ICU who suffered an open wound from his groin to his abdomen. The most recent victim was a ten-year-old, who died with her face wasted away almost completely.

Other patients were forced to undergo dozens of surgeries to try to save their small bodies from the flesh-eating infection known as mucormycosis. The invasive fungal infection has an extraordinarily high fatality rate and primarily affects patients with compromise immune systems.

It took ten months after the death of the first victim for doctors to connect the dots between fatalities. Medical researchers identified the hospital's bed linens as the source that carried mucormycosis throughout the facility, where it came into contact with vulnerable patients and killed them between August 2008 and July 2009.

According to investigations, the infections went undetected for so long because of defects in the hospital's infection controls and negligent handling of contaminated linens. Hospital workers would clean all linens on the same dock where medical waste was removed, would transport both clean and dirty linens on the same carts, and store linens in hallways covered in debris from construction.

Hospital officials did not notify the families of the five victims until after a report was published on the issue. Even the head of the hospital's infection control committee told the New York Times that he was not aware of the first infant's mucomycosis at the time.

Hospital-Acquired Infections throughout the Country

About 75,000 patients die every year from infections acquired from health care facilities - and the number of deadly fungal infections is on the rise. In response, the CDC recently started a program to help hospitals communicate with the public about infections and hospital errors. Hospitals taking initiative in this effort are enjoying significant gains in public trust.

Surprisingly, mucomycosis is not on the list of diseases that hospitals must report to the government. The infection can start as a small irritation or small black spot, which later spreads into nearby areas of the body, ravaging the skin and internal tissue.

Fungi can thrive in any moist environment, including a washroom or near water sources. TLC Linen Services, which provided and maintained linens for the hospital, is located just a few blocks from a large lake in New Orleans and includes a 40,000-square-foot washing warehouse. Moldy environments or those with inadequate ventilation systems can also cause fungi to thrive and spread.

Three families of the mucomycosis victims have filed lawsuits against the hospital so far, one of which was recently settled in an undisclosed amount. Hospital linens must always be wrapped in bags or cellophane while being transported; if not, fungi and other infections can spread rapidly.

Continue reading "Deadly New Orleans Outbreak leads to Questions on Hospital Safety" »

Gynecologic Procedure now Banned by Four Top Hospitals

April 28, 2014

6842256759_0613c09bf9_b.jpgOur team of medical mistake attorneys recently reported that doctors throughout the country were calling for a ban on one popular gynecological procedure, known as morcellation. In the wake of public outcry, at least three of the nation's top hospitals have banned the procedure. Importantly, the FDA has also released a statement discouraging surgeons from using morcellation procedures.

Morcellation was generally used during hysterectomy or myomectomy procedures to treat uterine fibroids in women. The practice involved using a laparoscopic power morcellator (a medical device) to divide the uterine tissue into smaller pieces or fragments.

Now, it has become clear that about one in every 350 women who undergo this type of procedure will be diagnosed with uterine sarcoma, which is a type of uterine cancer. This is possible because uterine sarcoma hides in the fibroids that morcellation procedures are designed to break up. If such cancer cells are already present in fibroids when a morcellator divides them, the cancer cells spread into the abdomen and pelvis, significantly worsening the patient's likelihood of survival.

What makes this issue particularly frightening is that there is no reliable method for predicting whether a woman's fibroids contain cancerous cells. Because of this, the FDA is now discouraging the use of morcellators during hysterectomies and myomectomies for uterine fibroids.

This issue was brought to the forefront of public and medical attention when a prominent doctor at Beth Israel Daconess Medical Center was diagnosed with uterine sarcoma after undergoing the procedure. Her husband is a Harvard-affiliated surgeon who went public with the dire news, calling on hospitals and doctors to stop practicing morcellation.

This couple has become the driving force behind the call to ban the procedure. Two hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School - Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital - were the first to cease using morcellation procedures. Two more of the nation's most esteemed hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, are the latest to suspend the use of morcellators. Temple University Hospital has also sharply limited power morcellator.

Public Safety Number One Priority

Officials at these four hospitals have gone on record saying that the public called on them to act immediately, so they did. A chairman at the Cleveland Clinic stated that the hospital will decide whether or not it will permanently ban the procedure in the upcoming months.

The FDA also plans to hold a hearing on morcellators in the coming months, which hospitals throughout the country will surely look to for guidance. Over the past ten years power morcellators have become extremely popular because they are used in less-invasive forms of hysterectomies and myomectomies. Known as laparoscopic procedures, these operations use only tiny incisions to break up fibroids instead of previous practices that left large scars and longer recoveries.

Women undergoing hysterectomies or myomectomies need to be completely aware of the risks of the procedure. Once the patient has been counselled on how the surgery will be performed, she reserves the right to request a different method or choose a different surgeon altogether. This is known as an informed-consent process.

It is important to note that there are still other ways to perform surgery on uterine fibroids using minimally-invasive techniques. Among these include vaginal hysterectomies and mini-laparotomy procedures, which do not require abdominal incisions. Temple University Hospital already designates the mini-laparotomy as its preferred uterine fibroid technique.

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How Spine Implants Cause More Harm than Good

April 16, 2014

6087539168_6117cd51b0_b.jpgStimulation therapy is a growing treatment intended to relieve chronic pain in the spinal cord by sending electrical pulses through an implant. In some patients, the procedure works well and pain is well-managed. In others, the operation turns dire, causing permanent paralysis. Medical device attorneys at Pintas & Mullins look into these implants and who is to blame when a patient is paralyzed.

Spinal stimulator devices are manufactured by a variety of companies, including Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude Medical. The devices are implanted into patients near the spinal cord, where a pulse generator sends low currents of electricity into extension wires, which are placed on the spine. The leads then transmit an electrical current onto the spine that distracts the brain from recognizing - and therefore feeling - pain signals.

Patients are typically admitted to hospitals for overnight stays, and can return home shortly after implantation with, ideally, a pain-free life. For dozens of patients, the procedure goes too far, causing partial or permanent paralysis or motor weakness.

In most of these cases, the injury occurs after the spinal cord is punctured or compressed by the electrical conductors, which are inserted into a narrow cavity called the epidural space in the lower spine (this is where an epidural anesthesia is administered during childbirth).

According to the FDA's database, nearly 60 patients were paralyzed by spinal stimulators in 2013 - up from nearly 50 the year before. It is worth noting that the FDA's database is far from complete, and many assert that injuries are vastly underreported.

Who is to Blame?

Doctors highlight a potential cause of the problem - insufficient awareness by doctors on the true risks of operating around the spinal cord, and proper techniques for avoiding the most dangerous areas. Much of the blame, they assert, rests on insufficient training and lack of surgical guidelines that leave physicians unprepared.

Part of the reason for this is that spinal stimulation procedures are conducted by various types of doctors: orthopedic spine surgeons, neurosurgeons, or anesthesiologists. Thus, no one medical society (which are typically responsible for developing training standards and practice guidelines) is held responsible for issuing such standards and performance tracking.

It may sound trite to say that surgical outcomes largely rely on the experience and skills of the doctor - but in spinal stimulation implantations this is particularly true. A physician at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center stated that the surgery initially seems straightforward and simple, which attracts doctors who are not familiar with how risky a spine procedure actually is.

Medical device manufacturers like Medtronic claim they monitor adverse event reports and update the product labelling to reflect new or increased risks. Among these include the possibility that scar tissue can form around the device electrodes and cause nerve damage (which is also the site of paralysis). Companies like Medtronic offer weekend-long training sessions, however, experts agree that these courses are not sufficient.

Stimulators can cost between $20,000 and $60,000 each, but about a third of patients experience complications because of the device within a year of implantation. Nearly one in four patients have to undergo additional surgeries to fix the adverse side effects.

Continue reading "How Spine Implants Cause More Harm than Good" »

Another da Vinci Robotic System Approved for Market

April 3, 2014

fort-belvoir-community-hospital-astounds-with-groundbreaking-technology-and-devotion-to-patient-care.jpgIntuitive Surgical, the company that makes the da Vinci Robotic Surgery System, recently announced that it gained approval for a new robotic system, called the da Vinci Xi. Our team of da Vinci surgery injury lawyers takes a closer look at this new system and how it could affect patient care.

Robotic surgical systems are aggressively marketed to hospitals throughout the country as the "new, latest, most advanced" technology. In fact, there are no conclusive studies that show that such robotic systems provide better care for patients - quite the opposite. Hospitals are agreeing to pay millions of dollars (an average of $1.85 million) for these systems only to stay up on the competition.

The new Xi features thinner arms than the traditional da Vinci, and is intended to perform more complex surgeries. It also includes a fluorescent imaging system, nicknamed Firefly, which the company believes will improve patient safety by improving surgeon's seeing ability. Other upgrades include new joints for greater range of motion and improved visual definition.

To use the robots, surgeons sit behind a console and operate the device using a control panel, which includes a screen, pedals and joysticks. The system has raised much controversy since its initial 2009 release, and several lawsuits have been filed against Intuitive by patients seriously, some fatally, injured by the robots.

Adding fuel to the fire, the FDA approved the Xi robotic system through a special process (called the 510(k) approval) that requires minimal testing. What makes this so disconcerting is that Intuitive has been reprimanded by federal authorities for withholding information on how many patients have actually been injured by the robots. All injuries and deaths associated with a certain type of medical device are reported by the hospital directly to the manufacturer. The manufacturer is then required to inform the FDA within 30 days of receiving the report, and is also required to investigate the injury or device malfunction, sending the FDA a report of this investigation once it is completed.

According to lawsuits against Intuitive, the company was systemically underreporting the complications caused by da Vinci robots, along with knowingly misclassifying serious injuries and deaths as "other." The FDA was then never informed of the true injury risks from the da Vinci, and the public was never informed. The company also concealed three separate voluntary recalls from the FDA, which involved defective da Vinci parts. Due to their lack of reporting, dozens of patients were injured - specifically, burned - by malfunctioning parts.

According to reports, patients who are obese or who suffer from other serious medication conditions are significantly more likely to suffer an adverse event from the da Vinci. Other studies note that robotic surgery is not at all superior to traditional methods.
The original system was approved for minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgeries on the gallbladder and for gynecologic procedures. It was later approved for more complex procedures, such as chest, cardiac, and urologic surgeries.

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Dangerous Doctors, Patient Deaths Reveal Failing Texas Healthcare System

March 11, 2014

299122118_1e0a8cdc8e.jpgDr. Christopher Duntsch arrived in Texas in 2010 to start a neurosurgery practice. By 2013, he had killed two patients from malpractice, paralyzed four others, and had his medical license revoked. Our team of medical malpractice lawyers examines this horrifying story and the problems within the Texas legislature that allowed it to happen.

Throughout the three years he was practicing in Texas, physicians, patients, and malpractice lawyers repeatedly tried to have his license suspended. Their efforts were unsuccessful for so long because of a series of conservative reforms in the Texas court and medical systems. Over the past ten years, these reforms have severely limited the resources and options available to patients injured by negligent physicians.

The medical system in Texas used to be overseen by a connected network between the state medical board, hospital management, and the courts, which prevented and punished cases of medical malpractice. This changed around 2003, when the Republican Texas Legislature set maximum dollar amounts for malpractice lawsuits at $250,000. This is problematic for many reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, but in essence the damage cap does not adequately protect patients who suffer permanent injuries from doctors like Duntsch and deters malpractice lawsuits from being filed.

Other laws were introduced that protected hospitals from being sued for the actions of their doctors. Currently, Texas law states that hospitals may only be held liable for damages if the plaintiff can prove that hospital management knew that the doctor posed an extreme risk to patients and hired them anyway. Compounding this, hospitals in Texas are allowed to keep all their information regarding doctor hiring practices completely private, so neither patients nor plaintiffs can access them.

So, with hospitals deregulated and the court system substantially curtailed, the Texas Medical Board was all that remained to police physicians and protect patients. The board, however, was established to monitor physician licenses and oversee professional standards, not in any way protect the public. The board's intention is to protect physician's rights, and does not revoke medical licenses unless there is overwhelming, inarguable evidence such as a felony conviction or dolling out opioids to addicts.

Dr. Duntsch and His Wake of Destruction

In 2010, Duntsch started a practice, the Texas Neurological Institute and worked at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano. Another surgeon at Baylor told the Texas Observer that Duntsch was, by far, the worst surgeon he had seen, even when performing relatively minor procedures.

Reports of serious harm done to patients by Duntsch are long and illustrate consistently dangerous and unconscionable medical care. After the first few botched surgeries Baylor had to bring in senior surgeons to correct the damage done to patients, though most of it was irreparable. Duntsch even operated on a childhood friend, severely damaged his spinal cord, and delayed follow-up tests so long that his friend permanently lost the use of his arms and legs.

Duntsch was suspended for 30 days, after which he was supposed to be supervised during every surgery. This never happened; soon after the first paralysis, a woman named Kellie Martin went to Duntsch to treat back pain. Duntsch recommended a microlaminectomy, a minor surgery which removes part of the spine to relieve pain from nerve pressure.

Duntsch performed the surgery, which was supposed to take 45 minutes, unsupervised. Two hours after she went in the OR, her husband asked to speak with Duntsch, who said there had been some complications and she would have to stay the night. Another few hours later, she was rushed to the intensive care unit. Ultimately, after an excruciating wait, he and his daughters were told Kellie had died.

The medical examiner had to examine her twice because he was so shocked by the state her body was in. It was clear Duntsch severed one of her spinal arteries during surgery (as he had with his childhood friend a month prior), and failed to notice it in time to save her life. She eventually bled to death.

Continue reading "Dangerous Doctors, Patient Deaths Reveal Failing Texas Healthcare System" »

Popular Hysterectomy Surgery Causing Cancer Spread

February 27, 2014

6025359063_81a0b67b4c.jpgDoctors across the country are calling to change standards for a common gynecological procedure, morcellation, which can spread dangerous types of uterine cancer. Many studies have confirmed this risk, forcing the medical community to reevaluate how and when the procedure is done. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look at this procedure and who is most at risk.

Morcellation is a hysterectomy procedure that involves grinding the uterus so tissue can be more easily removed through small incisions. In women with cancerous or pre-cancerous uterine cells, however, the procedure breaks up the cancerous tissue and scatters them into the abdomen or other organs.

What makes the issue particularly dangerous is the inability to test for cancerous uterine cells before the surgery. These cancerous cells can also often appear non-cancerous or non-threatening in initial tests, so the risk is amplified.

Personal Tragedy leads to Public Change

Among the most vocal physicians fighting to curb the use of morcellation is a Harvard-affiliated cardiothoracic surgeon, whose wife suffered the serious consequences of the procedure. He has written dozens of letters to medical journals and media outlets saying that the surgery endangers women, referring to it as a major public health crisis. The surgeon's wife, who is also a physician, underwent a morcellation procedure to treat what her medical team believed were benign (or non-cancerous) masses in her uterus.

The procedure went smoothly, however during follow-up testing showed that the "benign" cells actually contained a rare and extremely aggressive cancer known as uterine leiomysarcoma. The cancerous tissue was spread throughout her abdomen and lungs during the morcellation surgery, inflicting her with stage four cancer.

She is now going through chemotherapy and additional surgeries to remove cancerous tissue, with the support of her husband and six children. She asserts that neither her gynecologist nor her surgeon informed her of the risk of cancer spread before she agreed to a morcellation procedure. At present, the hospital she underwent her procedure, Brigham and Women's Hospital (where her husband also works), has imposed limits on morcellation procedures, including strengthening the informed consent process and adding restrictions for eligibility.

The couple is now criticizing doctors, hospitals, and medical society that they believe underplayed the risks of morcellation. The issue is quickly becoming a hot topic of debate in the field of gynecology, and many other physicians have joined in on the call to curb the procedure. Already, two esteemed medical journals have published critical articles on morcellation.

Very recently, on February 26, 2014, the FDA announced it would begin investigating information and data on morcellation procedures. FDA spokespeople stated that the agency is extremely concerned about the potential of cancer spread in at-risk women.

Since the couple started campaigning against morcellation, many other wives and their spouses, have come forward to say they suffered similar devastating cancer spread from the surgery. They are calling the procedure flawed and are asking researchers to conduct analyses of morcellation studies and the rate of cancer spread.

Risk Factors Include...

Continue reading "Popular Hysterectomy Surgery Causing Cancer Spread" »

Bariatric Surgery and Children: When Weight Loss Kills

February 17, 2014

childhood-obesity-1_l.jpgThe number of overweight and obese children is rising substantially throughout the United States and the world. This, of course, is a problem in and of itself, however additional concerns are being raised about the prevalence and dangers of pediatric bariatric surgery. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look at this troubling trend and how it could impact our children.

The childhood obesity problem is most prevalent in developed countries, and rates are expected to rise even more over the next decade in affluent Middle Eastern countries. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiles one little boy, aged three, who currently weighs in at 61 pounds, more than twice the average for his age. He was just one year old when his parents began noticing health issues associated with his weight, including dangerously slow circulation due to pressure on his airways.

Due to his extraordinary size, his parents recently decided to have him undergo bariatric surgery. The procedure will remove part of his stomach, ideally so he will be unable to eat as much and feel satiated with lesser amounts of food. They hope that this surgery will prevent a lifetime of additional obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and severe sleep apnea.

Obesity in children is caused by a sedentary lifestyle (excess video games and television time, lack of physical activity) and overindulgence in unhealthy foods lacking in real nutrients. It is now a serious health problem not only in Western countries but other places, such as Saudi Arabia, where over 9% of school-aged youths are obese (about 18% of American school aged children are obese).

Weight-Loss Surgery and Children

U.S. doctors are willing to perform bariatric surgery on teenagers, however such procedures on children under the age of 13 are generally not done. In order to qualify for bariatric surgery, youths must have a BMI of 35 or higher in addition to a serious weight-related health problem. This may include diabetes, sleep apnea, increased pressure inside the skull (pseudotumo cerebri), high cholesterol/blood pressure, or severe liver inflammation.

There is a plethora of other factors doctors should consider before deciding to perform bariatric surgery on a child. Among these include:

• whether or not they have been able to lose weight on their own through diet and exercise

• whether they are finished growing

• understanding that they must be willing to follow lifestyle changes post-surgery

• use of alcohol or drugs within 12 months before surgery

If any of the above-mentioned factors were not considered before surgery, the child may suffer severe, even life-threatening complications from the procedure. Unfortunately, more and more rogue physicians are looking to cash in on this trending market by performing surgeries on children who do not qualify. Parents need to inform themselves on the general safety guidelines for bariatric surgery to avoid a devastating malpractice event.

There is now a global debate over the appropriate age for bariatric surgery. In the U.S., the youngest is typically about 14; abroad, as stated, children as young as three are undergoing the procedure. The World Health Organization points to a total lack of data on the long-term health effects of such surgeries on children, and that surgeons should err conservatively on the age spectrum.

Currently, the issue of highest concern is not the procedure itself but on how the abrupt change in nutritional consumption would affect long-term brain and sexual development. The brain critically needs the proper types and amounts of nutrients to mature properly, which also affects hormones associated with sexual maturation and cognitive functioning. There is currently no data proving weight-loss surgeries do not affect this development.

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Congress to Tighten Leash on VA after Disastrous Medical Errors

February 10, 2014

6989660347_405bf398c4.jpgIn the wake of the our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) has been innundated with a new generation of injured troops entirely different than in wars past. The changes in veteran demographic, mixed with the pre-existing American healthcare problems and an array of other factors, is causing disarray in the VA. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look into the disorder and how Congress plans to fix it.

You know something has gone terribly wrong when the least-productive Congress in U.S. history is calling foul on another government agency. Bipartisan members of Congress are launching investigations and working on remedial efforts after reports of serious and devastating problems at VA hospitals throughout the country. To have bipartisan members of Congress frustrated with the agency is extremely telling of its fundamental, deep-rooted problems.

The issues are wide-spread and affect all 1,700 VA facilities in the U.S. Among the problems, legislators are blaming lack of accountability, management errors, and restrictions on performance-based pay for the abundance of medical errors, which are devastating veterans. Congressional members are now considering and will more than likely approve penalties for the VA.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to introduce legislation that will make it easier for poorly performing hospital staff to be demoted or fired. Currently, VA executives receive bonuses based almost exclusively on tenure rather than performance or contribution.

Needless Deaths of our Veterans

Much of the Congressional uproar is in response to an influx of media coverage of the dire, often fatal conditions at VA hospitals in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and South Carolina to name just three. CNN recently published a story on several patient deaths at the Dorn VA Medical Center in South Carolina and the Charlie Norwood Medical Facility in Georgia. CNN reporters investigated the facilities after it became clear that dozens of patients were dying of cancer due to delayed or flat-out denied care.

The report noted that thousands of veterans at these two facilities alone were being forced to wait several months even for routine screening tests such as colonoscopies - within some waiting lists going back as far as 2010. To say this is unacceptable is a dire understatement. Making matters worse, those in charge of these facilities were wholly unable to report remedy and disciplinary action for the backlogs.

VA facilities function differently than traditional privatized hospitals and healthcare clinics. As with any other government agency, the environment within the facilities is extremely enclosed and nepotistic. Inadequate employees are rarely fired; the worst that happens is a transfer to another VA facility, where the cycle of negligence merely continues without discipline or consequence. Additionally, many do not realize that the VA in its entirety is paid for by the American public through taxes.

Among its aims, Congress will explicitly examine each VA executive's history of contribution, action and capabilities. The VA system cares for about 8.75 million patients - from WWII vets to teenagers coming back from Afghanistan - with an annual budget of over $145 billion. There are no current discussions surrounding cuts to this massive budget, only of the VA's performance and lack thereof.

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Court Rules Minor Malpractice Cases not Subject to Statute of Limitations

January 23, 2014

8178804876_04313157fa.jpgWashington's Supreme Court recently decided that statutes of limitation are not applicable to medical malpractice cases involving minors. The suit centered on Jaryd Schroeder, who was injured from negligent medical care when he was nine years old. At age 18, Schroeder decided to sue the physician for medical malpractice, which he attempted to have barred due to the statute of limitation. Ultimately, Washington's highest court ruled such a statute violated the Schroeder's constitutional rights, awarding him a trial.

Our team of medical malpractice attorneys highlights this case to discuss how and when statutes of limitations are used to prevent minors from filing lawsuits later in life. The Washington Supreme Court believes, as do we, that this places an unfair burden on injured children.

Schroeder filed suit against Dr. Stephen Weighall and Columbia Basin Imaging just before he turned 19, for events that transpired ten years prior. When he was nine, Schroader suffered from double vision, nausea, leg weakness, headaches, and dizziness, and went to Columbia Basin Imaging for an MRI. The radiologist, Dr. Weighall, examined the tests and told Schroeder and his family that everything looked normal.

About eight years later, Schroeder underwent another MRI because his symptoms did not subside. These later tests showed that his brain was protruding into his spinal cord, which was causing his debilitating ailments. Less than two years later Schroeder filed suit.

The defendants, Weighall and Columbia Basin Imaging, attempted to have the case barred on basis of the statute of limitations. The initial judge approved and dismissed Schroeder's case. He then appealed directly to the state's Supreme Court, claiming the dismissal violated his constitutional right of equal protection for minors.

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 to revive Schroeder's case. In the majority opinion, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote that statutes of limitation laws placed undue burden on children whose guardians are unwilling or unable to pursue a claim on behalf of the child. She went on to say that numerous other courts have reached similar conclusions, and particularly harm children in foster care, children of teenage parents, and neglected children.

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What Fuels Medical Mistakes

January 8, 2014

4727573126_7418a98c6f.jpgAs a law firm specializing in medical malpractice and mistakes, we see firsthand the traumatic and often catastrophic results of malpractice, and its effects on victims' families. Our passion for this field translates into great interest into how and why these mistakes are made in the first place, and what malpractice attorneys and plaintiffs as a community can do to prevent them.

Though much ink has been spilled on this topic, we recently came across an article in the esteemed British Medical Journal (BMJ), in which the author asserts that evidenced-based medicine is damaged. Evidence-based medicine is heralded in the U.S. as the solution to medical malpractice reform. In theory, it sounds ideal: in order to minimize medical errors, physicians should apply therapeutic principals rooted in scientific and medical research when diagnosing and treating patients.

The reality, of course, is much more complex, varied, and as many argue, broken. The BMJ author declares that drug manufacturers have figured out how to manipulate this evidence-based system to their advantage, conducting research trials as opportunities to tout unnecessary drugs. Once these trials produce "evidence," that certain drugs help certain patients at certain times, physicians are forced to comply, often to the rapid demise of their patients' health.

Overdiagnosis, Overtreatment

Truth be told, the drug industry funds (and therefore controls) the majority of medical research, which leads to massive overdiagnosing and overmedicating. This, many doctors believe, is what is truly fueling medical mistakes in American health centers. Our societal dependence on prescription drugs is immense and steadily increasing. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nine out of ten adults in the U.S. report using at least one prescription drug in the past month.

That clinical research is corrupted by the drug industry doesn't make national headlines like egregious medical malpractice lawsuits do, but it is the driving force behind such cases. In order to remedy this, we have to first understand and accept that it is happening, and direct energy toward changing what is broken.

Medical researchers need to focus on what desperately needs to be studied - natural history of diseases, diagnostic criteria, long-term efficacy and safety of drugs. Conversely, we also need to urge researchers, philanthropic organizations, and government officials to tighten regulation of competing interests, predetermined agendas, and Big Pharma influence.

Complex Patient, Understaffed Hospitals

Another major problem affecting every subset of our healthcare system is overworked, underpaid nurses and medical assistants. An article recently published on ProPublica, written by a Harvard Medical School graduate and internal medicine resident, illuminates how difficult it is to keep patients with complex conditions safe in hospitals. The author's mother died of breast cancer after six months in a nationally-ranked hospital, during which time she witnessed a slew of medical mistakes and incidents that hastened her mother's death.

She asserts that, most often, injuries from medical mistakes are not the result of negligence, but of critical information falling through the cracks. Things like medication errors, nutritional regimens, and falls are often caused by seemingly minor incidences, like handoffs between nursing shifts, nearly identical labeling and drug names, and lack of fail-safe systems.

In a word, the author believes complexity is the problem plaguing our health system. As medical advances save and improve lives, it is also creating an influx of new medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and treatments; there are just too many layers to manage, and overbooking physicians is only exacerbating the problem.

How to Help

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One of Six American Deaths Caused by Preventable Hospital Error

December 16, 2013

4726929163_1dc2a8fd75.jpgHealth experts estimate that an alarming number of patients in the U.S. - about 440,000 per year, to be exact - die from medical errors in the hospital. That amounts to about one-sixth of all deaths nationally, and the third leading cause of death overall. Our team of medical malpractice attorneys examines how this could be so in a country so touted for medical advancement.

According to a recent article by the New York Times, the number of patients seriously injured (but not killed) by medical negligence is 10 to 20 times higher than 440,000. The author of that article suggests that the most surefire way to heighten hospital safety is to make information and records more transparent. She affirms that hospitals began tracking safety errors in 2000, and in 2003 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services started collecting hospital safety information.

The website Hospital Compare lists much of this information, and most states run similar websites. Other websites and advocate groups that rank or publish hospital safety information include the U.S. News Best Hospitals, Consumer Reports, and Leapfrog Group.

Among the information that can be mined from these sites include rates of surgical site infection, drug-resistant bacteria infection (such as C.diff), and bedsore and blood clot rates. There is also, however, a significant dearth of information, which is worrisome to say the least, and confirms that hospitals are not comprehensively reporting their data on preventable errors and medical mistake.

The American healthcare system is hotly contested in all its factions, as it affects the lives of everyone in this country: young and old, sick and healthy, rich and poor. The politics in this issue are omnipresent and intrinsic in understanding how and why the reporting system is so colluded. Enter: the National Quality Forum, a federal organization established in 1999 that is influenced by hospital lobbyists just as Congress is. Consumer representatives of National Forum committees told the Times that they are rolled over by lobbyists and hospital administrators "constantly" in deciding core reporting requirements and other issues.

For example, Hospital Compare no longer provides information on surgical instruments left in patients after procedures, or frequencies of air embolism. About 27 states now require public report of hospital-acquired infection rates, however, this is the only government-mandated safety information required, leaving much buried beneath the surface.

Proving Fault in Hospital Error Lawsuits

When medical negligence directly causes serious patient injury or death, a lawsuit is the most efficient and effective way to ensure the hospital corrects the inadequacies that led to the error. Lawsuits may only be filed, however, if it can be proven that the physicians or hospital staff failed to meet the standard level of care in your treatment.

To prove negligence it must be demonstrated that the physician/hospital's conduct fell substantially below the general medical standard of care. This medical standard can be established through testimony by a medical expert practicing in the same field (for example, if the lawsuit is being brought against an OB/GYN, the testimony of another obstetrician or gynecologist from a different hospital would be acceptable).

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