In the mid 70s, The California Hospital and Medical Associations commissioned a study on medical malpractice insurance. The study revealed shocking results – that one out of every twenty patients who sought treatment in hospitals were injured because of medical malpractice, and one out of every ten patients died as a result.
In the 80s, a similar study conducted in over fifty hospitals in New York by a team from Harvard revealed that of the 31,000 hospital records reviewed, nearly 8,000 – one in four patients – showed evidence of possible medical injury.
The crisis is not over. According to the Institute of Medicine, close to 100,000 people die each year from medical malpractice errors. The most common medical malpractice injuries are:
Complications in childbirth can cause injury or death to the baby, the mother, or both, especially when the attending doctor fails to deliver adequate care before or during the delivery. The inadequate care may be through failure to administer blood tests to detect abnormalities, failure to recognize the signs of fetal distress, failure to provide proper prenatal care, failure to recognize the signs of respiratory distress, failure to perform a Caesarian section where it was necessary, hastening the delivery process resulting in breech delivery and broken bones, or failure to properly care for a premature baby. The doctor’s negligence could result in the following:
o Cerebral palsy – permanent brain damage to the baby’s motor control centers in the brain, which is characterized by motor dysfunction, e.g. spasms and lack of muscular coordination
o Erb’s palsy or brachial palsy – injury to the nerves surrounding the baby’s shoulder when it is unable to come out of the birth canal (shoulder dytocia), causing arm paralysis
o Facial paralysis – injury to the baby’s facial nerve, usually caused by forcep delivery
o Clavicle fracture – when the baby’s clavicle or collarbone breaks; usually happens in breech births
Many medical malpractice injuries happen in the operating room, usually because of poor pre-operative planning and care. This sometimes leads to irreparable or fatal consequences. Mistakes such as the improper or untimely administration of anesthesia, improper surgical technique, accidentally puncturing or cutting internal organs, operating on the wrong body part or the wrong patient, leaving surgical instruments or materials inside the body, and failing to diagnose and treat post-operative infections can result in the following:
o Asphyxia – suffocation or the loss of oxygen to body parts, caused by anesthesia errors
o Spinal cord injuries
o Torn or punctured organs
o Hypoxic and anoxic brain injuries – partial (hypoxic) or total (anoxic) lack of oxygen in the brain
o Cardiovascular problems
Infections, Septicemia and Bleeding
Sterile conditions are critical during surgeries in order to prevent infection. Failure to maintain a sterile environment in surgeries has proven to cause infections and/or bleeding, sometimes with fatal results. Infections are also known to be caused during blood transfusions, particularly when the wrong blood type is given in emergency situations. Hospitals are required by law to have infection protocols, and to monitor surgery patients to avoid infections and excessive bleeding.
Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose
There are cases when a person’s life depends on what the doctor does or does not do. It is the doctor’s responsibility to find out if there is something wrong with the patient, and what that is. To this end, the doctor must order medical tests and closely review the test results to help determine the patient’s illness. Wrong diagnosis or the failure to diagnose an illness can sometimes lead to serious diseases, chronic pain, or even death. Some of the most common undiagnosed illnesses are:
o Cancer – breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer
o brain tumors
o Ischemia – the deprivation of oxygen to parts of the body
o Mesothelioma – a type of cancer affecting the abdomen, liver or heart, caused by exposure to asbestos dust
o Asbestosis – lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos particles
The doctor’s negligence in examining and ordering tests to make a correct judgment on illnesses can also lead to misdiagnosis of:
o Lyme disease
o Heart disease and other cardiac problems
o Cervical cancer
o Malignant melanomas and skin cancer
Medication errors account for a substantial number of medical malpractice lawsuits. Errors in the form of incorrect dosages, prescription of the wrong medicine, incorrect combinations of medications, and prescription of medicine that the patient is allergic to can, instead of healing the patient, cause severe allergic reactions and sometimes death. Medication errors can also occur in pharmacies when the pharmacists give the patient the wrong medicine.