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Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Law Blog

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.

Understanding medical malpractice cases

While the most advanced and well-equipped hospitals and medical centers abound in Pennsylvania, medical errors still occur. Medical misdiagnoses, a failure to treat or an erroneous treatment can result in a patient's deteriorating physical condition or death. Sometimes the doctor may fail to correctly diagnose the patient, while at other times a doctor may correctly diagnosed the patient's symptoms but did not follow up with criteria or tests. If these circumstances exist, the doctor could face a medical malpractice suit.

Some cases may be more complicated, however. In an instance where a patient claims that the doctor failed to provide a timely diagnosis for a particular type of spreading cancer because the cancer suddenly spread to his or her tissues or organs, medical experts may respond by testifying that a micrometastasis could have started ten years before it shows up in a tumor. So by the time it is diagnosed, the cancerous cells could have spread and grown in the patient's body. The doctor in this example may not be considered liable for delaying or failing in diagnosing the patient's condition.

Government agency stops disclosing hospital errors

The federal government has decided to stop dsiclosing when hospitals make a number of potentially life-threatening mistakes, including leaving surgical instruments in patients. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied that these issues would stop being reported, but it has quietly ceased mandating that eight hospital acquired conditions be reported on the hospital comparison site that it runs.

Last summer, data related to certain types of surgical errors and avoidable medical conditions was available on a public spreadsheet that was accessible to quality researchers, patient advocates and members of the public able to understand it. However, this information is now unavailable, and it is up to researchers to try to create this information using claims data.

Pennsylvania cosmetic surgeon faces class-action lawsuit

Patients of a Pennsylvania cosmetic surgeon received letters suggesting that they be tested for HIV as well as for hepatitis B and C due to problems with infection control at the surgeon's office, but the doctor's license was only suspended for a few days. According to the state board of medicine, the doctor cooperated with the health department, changed his procedures and notified patients, so his license was reinstated.

The problems were generally related to sterilization. In addition to failing to sterilize instruments between patients, used syringes were placed in multi-use vials of anesthetic and an autoclave was left untested, meaning that it may not have been sterilizing instruments properly.

Assessing culpability for birth injuries

Many parents in Pennsylvania may benefit from understanding more about who can be held liable if a birth injury ever occurs. Medical malpractice claims of this nature may apply to not only the practicing physician but also the entire health care facility, including nurses, anesthesiologists and other providers of health care services. Pharmaceutical firms may also be held liable in these types of lawsuits.

Drug manufacturers are culpable for damages when they fail to inform about the potential health risks associated with the product or treatment recommendations. However, the primary duty for pharmaceutical companies is to the physicians. As long as the doctor is adequately informed, the pharmaceutical company may be indemnified against any lawsuit resulting from a patient's injury from the drug. If the company fails to provide proper warnings to doctors, the drug is considered to be unreasonably dangerous, according to product liability law.

Pennsylvania patients face risks from electronic records push

With the wave of recent health care industry reforms being implemented nationwide and in the state of Pennsylvania, there has been a rush to move a large percentage of records into databases with few reporting requirements attached. Federal subsidies, approved by both Congress and President Obama in 2009, provide incentives for health care providers to convert their records to electronic formats. These regulations carry no incentives to encourage improvements in reporting of errors.

The move was intended to help reduce the costs of providing health care and to make the process more efficient. The incentives have had consequences, however, with doctors' offices, hospitals and clinics rushing to cash in on the payday before the laws providing the funding for them dry up.

Illnesses that are frequently misdiagnosed

When health issues are a concern, Pittsburgh patients may want to be aware of conditions and illnesses that can be missed because of an incorrect diagnosis. Although issues such as surgical and medication errors typically get more publicity, studies indicate that misdiagnosis is a more common problem, potentially playing a role in up to 20 percent of medical cases.

In a recent study, nearly 30 percent of cases involving a misdiagnosis were serious enough to cause permanent disability or death. The more common the issue, the greater the potential for a wrong diagnosis as in the case of infections. An incorrect evaluation of an infection can be deadly. Blood clots in lungs can be deadly as well and are not always correctly diagnosed. This may be due to a lack of symptoms. Inaccurate explaining of symptoms may be a factor in misdiagnosis of heart attacks. This is particularly true in women as up to 70 percent do not experience any chest pain. Heart disease and stroke also have high rates of incorrect diagnosis.

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