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Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Universal Protocol could reduce surgical errors in Pennsylvania

Informed patients could reduce their surgery risks by screening their physicians for adherence to proper protocols. Surgical errors have long been a problem, but research from the past two decades has found that certain common errors are largely preventable. The Universal Protocol for Wrong-Site Surgery, for instance, addresses the preventable causes in a majority of cases. An understanding of the causes of wrong-site surgery could help patients avoid worsened conditions or fatal surgical errors.

Many professionals think that wrong-site surgery is dramatically under-reported with only an estimated 10 percent of cases being reported to the Joint Commission. Research has provided better estimations of these incidents and an understanding of the primary causes, such as an absent or failed method of verifying the correct surgical site. In other research, the primary causes of these surgical errors were seen as failure to communicate, failure to follow established procedures and poor leadership.

Culture of perfection could put Pennsylvania patients at risk

In April 2014, a U.S. senator issued a report saying that 325,000 people died due to medical errors each year. She released another report in July that progress had been made in her state, California, due to the formation of peer review panels that encouraged transparency.

According to FierceHealthcare, an estimated 400,000 people die from medical errors made in hospitals a year. Deaths from medical errors are the third-highest cause of death in the United States, and the numbers are higher than they were in 1999. That was the year when the influential report on medical mistakes, "To Err is Human," was released.

Pennsylvania patients and wrong-site surgery

Wrong-site surgery is a significant cause of medical malpractice lawsuits. According to a report from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, the number of wrong-site surgeries has not declined despite numerous procedures being developed in hospitals around the country. Wrong-site surgery may be a surgical procedure done on the wrong body part, the wrong procedure conducted or a procedure done on the wrong person.

Some of the leading types of wrong-site surgery include wrong-side procedures such as an operation on the wrong hand or wrong eye. Others include wrong-vertebral surgery for back issues or anesthesia administered to the wrong location in the body. These issues often result from misinformation on the operating room schedule or patient history. The misinformation may happen as a result of communication mistakes between surgeons and nurses. It is important for health care providers to follow hospital guidelines for communication.

Medical errors and patient safety in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania residents may appreciate the fact that the state's monitoring system for adverse medical events contains aggressive efforts to track both actual incidents and close calls. Legislative bodies as well as the state's Department of Health have worked to require reporting with efforts dealing with medical errors dating back to 1998. At that time, codes were initiated to require reporting of any incident or conditions that might pose a risk to a patient's health and safety.

Legislation in 2002 accomplished several goals by establishing an oversight authority, developing a trust fund to address the costs, updating reporting requirements and imposing requirements for patient safety plans and officials in hospitals. Reforms for medical malpractice and liability increased reporting and accountability requirements for medical professionals. This involved reorganization of agencies and boards addressing various aspects of medical malpractice issues.

FIFA sued for soccer players' concussions

Pittsburgh Steelers fans may be aware that football players frequently suffer injuries during play, but what they may not know is that soccer players also face a risk of suffering a concussion on the field. In fact, a class-action lawsuit was recently filed in federal court against FIFA and U.S.-based soccer associations alleging that the groups failed to implement an effective policy to detect and handle concussions.

According to the plaintiffs, the guidelines set forth by FIFA for detecting a brain injury essentially require players to self-diagnose. Referees are also given too much power in determining whether a player has suffered a concussion, according to the plaintiffs. The soccer players, rather than seeking monetary damages, are requesting that their soccer organizations be required to establish a medical monitoring program. The players also want to have their attorneys' fees and costs paid for by the defendant organizations.

Pennsylvania doctor fixes condition misdiagnosed by others

A recent report describes the story of an ectopic pregnancy that led a woman suffering back pain and other symptoms that doctors misdiagnosed or dismissed. The ectopic pregnancy caused a ruptured fallopian tube and internal blood clots. A special filter was implanted into the woman's vena cava to prevent clots from reaching her heart and lungs.

She experienced symptoms such as nausea, pain and weight loss over the next few years. Repeated consultations resulted in statements that it was too risky to remove the filter and that it was not the cause of the problem. An orthopedist discovered a bone spur near the filter's location but did nothing to remove the filter. Later, a CT scan was done, and the radiologist suggested that the results seemed normal. A second viewing showed that legs of the filter appeared to be reaching out of the vena cava and rubbing her intestine and vertebrae, which might have been the cause of the woman's nausea and pain. Finally, a surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania successfully removed the filter during a 20-minute procedure.

Pennsylvania hospital fined by state agency

Carlisle Regional Medical Center was fined $12,000 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health stemming from a patient's death due to a head injury on Feb. 20, which is the highest possible fine that can be levied. The department claimed that the hospital erred in leaving the patient alone and for failing to document the incident. State law requires that hospitals send a report to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority when a patient unexpectedly suffers a serious injury or dies.

The patient in question was undergoing a radiology procedure and was being given pain medication through an IV. After the procedure was completed, the nurse attending to the patient stepped away and the patient fell off of a table. To ensure that such an accident does not happen again, the hospital is required to use safety belts on patients in a manner that does not interfere with such a procedure.

Black box could reduce surgeon error in Pennsylvania

Canadian researchers may be close to creating a device that will act like a black box for surgeons. This device will be able to take video of an operation and provide real-time instruction. It would also be able to let a surgeon know if he or she made any mistakes during or after the operation.

The result could be a reduction in complications due to surgical errors. However, some say that there is a downside to using such a device. If a surgeon did make a mistake and a patient is injured, the information recorded by the device might be used in court, which would exacerbate the problem of medical malpractice litigation. Therefore, those in the medical community are hoping that the device is crafted to be an educational tool to help surgeons get better over time.

Questions to ask your doctor

Pennsylvania patients need to be proactive when it comes to health care. Patients who ask their doctors the right questions can help prevent problems such as medication errors, misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses. Furthermore, doctors often have inside information that patients will not learn about unless they ask the right kinds of questions.

Following are some facts about medical care that many physicians know, but the public does not. For example, many doctors decide against heroic treatments for serious conditions that they have themselves. Most choose to focus on quality of life rather than heroic measures. Doctors are aware of the complications and side effects that come with certain treatments, including those for end-of-life care.

The dangers of a misdiagnosis

Some Pennsylvania medical patients may place absolute faith in their physicians. While doctors are highly trained and skilled, it's still possible for mistakes to be made. Sometimes, mistakes are benign, but in extreme cases, they can be deadly. Misdiagnosis, which is a delayed, missed, or incorrect diagnosis, is less common than it was years ago, but it's hardly scarce. It's difficult to determine the exact rate of misdiagnosis, but some experts estimate that it's approximately 10 percent.

Because of the large numbers of patients seen in the United States every year, 10 percent can translate to a high incidence. Some of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions are also some of the most serious. However, it is important to note that it is difficult to obtain information on misdiagnoses of less-severe conditions, as the misdiagnosis might not be discovered. If it is, a report may not be made.

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