Medical Mistakes

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By Edie Schmoll

The incredible statistics: A million patients are injured in our hospitals and nursing homes every year, and two hundred thousand are killed!

If you are unfortunate enough to enter one of these institutions of healing, yes, it  could happen to you:   Medical errors, superbugs, ignorance, carelessness—even neglect and actual abuse—are daily occurrences, from sea to shining sea.

And if your surgeon removes the wrong leg or lung or kidney, you are faced with the necessity of another operation to remove the remaining one—which is un- doubtedly diseased or useless.  The unlucky patient and his family, at this point, are at the bottom of the well, and it is filling up fast with very murky waters.

So you say: Okay, we will sue these bums!  Not so fast, my dear.  First, you will  pay to retrieve all your records (hundreds of dollars); then hand over a goodly  sum to an attorney, who will then hire a medical investigator to decide whether your case is winnable.  (Perhaps ten thousand dollars will give you a good start.)

Of course, this is feasible only if the law allows you to sue.  For instance, members of HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) cannot always legally pursue either malpractice or wrongful-death lawsuits.  They may be allowed only mediation,   usually handled in accordance with the terms of the HMO’s regulations—a double whammy for the hapless victim.

Meantime, of course, the unfortunate patient is suffering, the bills are piling up, and family members are all stressed out.

The necessary paper work and documentation during a long and tedious process called Discovery are excruciating; and protracted visits to the lawyer’s offices are expensive and time-consuming. You will be charged for your attorney’s time, and perhaps $20 an hour each day for care if your loved one is at home.

So here is a little advice from someone who has navigated these deep and murky waters:  If you enter a hospital or health facility, bring with you an intelligent and concerned person, keeping eyes and ears alert to everything that happens. Watch for aseptic conditions, medication errors, incautious physical handling, and nonspecific answers to questions.  If a bedsore appears, it should be attacked immediately.  The same goes for any fever or infection.  Should an accident or fall occur, it should be reported and recorded.  Do not hesitate to request a specialist if you feel one is needed.  Always insist on consulting with the treating physician every day.  Discuss medical decisions with your “concerned person,” and keep that person on hand as much as possible, even overnight.

But wait!  What happened to the doctor who committed this grievous error and ruined someone’s life?  Well—um—nothing!  Unless there is a huge settlement, the facts are not even reported to the State Medical Board—at least not in some states. Records are lost, facts are distorted, cover-ups abound; and the errant physician goes merrily on his way, still doing unto others.

The final question:  What ever happened to “First, Do No Harm . . .”?

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