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Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Law Blog

How common are wrong-site surgeries?

Pennsylvania residents benefit from nationwide programs to reduce the incidence of wrong-procedure, wrong-site, and wrong-patient surgeries. Respected agencies and commissions have released national protocols designed to reduce the incidence of such medical errors as much as possible. These programs have been widely successful, and the odds of encountering such an error are exceedingly low.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates the odds of a surgeon operating on the wrong site on the patient, giving the wrong procedure to the right patient or operating on the wrong patient entirely to be in the range of far less than 1 percent. Such surgical errors can be predicted to happen approximately once for every ten years in the life of a typical hospital. In spite of the relative rarity of such events, respected agencies such as the Joint Commission are working to make them even less common.

FDA warns against drug's intravenous use

A safety announcement issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be of interest for some patients undergoing medical procedures in Pennsylvania. The announcement warns against the intravenous usage of the medication nimodipine. According to the FDA, it received reports of at least 25 medical errors related to the intravenous usage of nimodipine. Four of the patients so affected died as result of the procedure and several others may have suffered grievous injury.

Though the FDA approved the use of nimodipine in 1988, it has taken various efforts to alert medical practitioners of the need to avoid its intravenous administration. Since 2006, there have been boxed warnings and other separately labeled warnings on nimodipine packages that describe the adverse reactions possible with intravenous administration. Despite this, the FDA says that it has continued to receive reports of nimodipine being used intravenously.

Causes that lead to cerebral palsy

Pennsylvania parents might want to learn more about the types of injuries a child could suffer during birth. One such injury is cerebral palsy, which results during or after birth due to abnormal brain development or damage. Those with CP have limited muscle control, and the condition tends to affect children with a low birth weight or who were born prematurely.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 85 to 90 percent of CP cases are congenital. This means that damage to the brain happened before or after the birth process. During deliver, the complications that could occur and thus lead to CP include rupture of the uterine wall, detachment of the placenta or disruption of the oxygen supply due to umbilical cord problems. Additionally, using infertility treatments, giving birth to more than one child and poorly treated Jaundice can increase the likelihood of a child developing congenital CP.

Ebola patient released due to hospital error

Individuals in Pennsylvania may have concerns about Ebola, but it is possible that malpractice should be a bigger concern for patients. In Texas, a man entered a hospital with Ebola on Sept. 25, but he was released because the way the hospital tracked information at intake. Reports suggest that the information passed to the physician did not highlight the patient's recent travel to West Africa. The man returned to the hospital on Sept. 28 and was admitted, but by then, a number of family members had been exposed to possible infection.

Because this hospital did not display the same information to nurses and doctors, the doctor was unaware of the man's recent travel. The hospital then changed its procedure regarding travel history to highlight that information so that medical professionals could make use of it when attempting a diagnosis. At issue in this case was the electronic medical record. While proponents of electronic records argue that they would make care more standardized, other professionals say that they make it more difficult to prioritize and pass on information.

How can cancer be diagnosed?

When medical professionals in Pennsylvania suspect that a patient may have cancer, there are certain steps that should be taken to diagnose it. Typically, an expert will view tissue samples under a microscope in order to make the determination.

In a testing process that is often referred to as pathology, a biopsy is performed. A tissue sample, or a biopsy specimen, is examined under a microscope, and experts take lab tests of cell DNA, RNA and proteins to detect whether the sample is that of a malignant tumor or benign.

When can punitive damages be awarded for medical malpractice?

When a medical malpractice lawsuit is filed in Pennsylvania, the majority of money awarded as damages is considered compensatory. As the name implies, compensatory damages are meant to make up for the additional expenses, pain and suffering or other hardships endured by the patient because of the medical professional's mistake. In certain cases, however, a person may file for punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages.

The law stipulates strict guidelines for when a person may seek punitive damages. A medical professional can only have punitive damages brought against them in a medical malpractice lawsuit if it can be proven that their error was intentional or that they displayed a particularly high level of wanton indifference to the patient's wellbeing. Simply showing gross negligence is not enough. The physician in question must also be personally responsible for the act.

Anoxic brain injuries could be caused by medical malpractice

Pennsylvania residents may be aware that medical malpractice can often lead to brain injuries. However, they may not know what types of brain injuries it can cause. One type of serious brain injury one can suffer is anoxic brain injury.

Anoxic brain injuries involve a lack of oxygen being supplied to the brain. When this occurs, brain cells can die, and permanent brain damage can happen in as little as five minutes. This type of brain injury is often caused by stroke, cardiac arrest, brain tumors, choking and anesthesia accidents, and recovery depends on the level of oxygen deprivation suffered.

Review of malpractice claims show diagnosis-related mistakes

People in Pennsylvania might be interested to know that The Doctors Company recently reviewed more than 1,800 medical malpractice claims submitted over a six-year period and released their findings of diagnosis errors broken down into 10 specialties. The Doctors Company is the country's biggest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer. The review discovered that as many as 61 percent of malpractice claims involved a delayed diagnosis, wrong diagnosis or other diagnosis error.

According to the review, there were 144 pediatric claims, 88 of which had a diagnosis issue. Meningitis and pneumonia were the most common conditions with a diagnosis-related case. Emergency medicine claims had nearly as high of a percentage. Nearly 60 percent of the 414 emergency cases involved a diagnosis problem. The two types of health issues with the most diagnosis problems were acute CVAs and fractures, both with exactly 13.4 percent of cases. The next three specialties with the highest diagnosis-related cases were internal medicine, family medicine and hospital medicine with 40 percent, 37 percent and 34 percent of claims respectively.

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.

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