One of the most terrifying realities that most of us don’t want to think about is also one of the most obvious: Doctors are human, too. Like other humans, doctors make mistakes. Some of these mistakes are understandable, while more serious mistakes constitute professional negligence. And sometimes, these mistakes kill people. The question is, how often does that happen? A recent study by a reputable university reaches some shocking conclusions.
A 2016 Johns Hopkins longitudinal study that took place between 2000 and 2008 concluded that:
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks causes of death, the Johns Hopkins team criticized it for failing to include medical error as a separate category. If a doctor mistakenly prescribes a medication that causes his patient to die of heart failure, for example, the CDC will list the cause of death as “heart failure,” not “medical error.” The Johns Hopkins team asserts that including medical error as a separate category will reduce medical errors.
Currently, hospitals tabulate medical errors based on billing codes used primarily for insurance purposes. Critics assert that the system is designed to maximize the value of billing receipts, not to provide a basis for compiling accurate national health statistics such as causes of death. The consequence, say critics, is that initiatives designed to reduce medical errors receive insufficient funding because medical statistics fail to acknowledge their existence.
Some observers, including more than a few doctors, question the conclusion of the Johns Hopkins study, claiming that:
The Johns Hopkins researchers asserted that most medical errors aren’t caused by incompetent doctors but by systemic failures such as:
The researcher recommended, in essence, that medical care become more standardized in order to both reduce the incidence of medical errors and lower the cost of healthcare.
A complete description of the various medical errors that have been made, or that could be made, would fill a library. Some of the most common categories of medical areas are listed below, however, along with examples.
Anesthesia errors are among the most dangerous types of medical errors, and they can result in brain damage, coma, or death. Some of the most common reasons for anesthesia errors include failing to thoroughly examine the patient’s medical history and failing to inform the patient of the possible consequences of, say, eating within a few hours before surgery.
Common anesthesia errors include administering too much anesthesia, using defective equipment (which could also result in a product liability claim), and failure to monitor vital signs, among others. In anesthesiology, there is very little room for error. Even a small mistake can have fatal consequences, which is why anesthesiologists must train for so long before they are qualified.
Surgical errors are common, although some types of errors are far more common than others. A clumsy surgeon might puncture an internal organ or a blood vessel, for example. Some of the most outrageous (and uncommon) errors that are committed include operating on the wrong body part, operating on the wrong patient, or leaving medical instruments inside the patient’s body after he has been sewn up. Improper post-op care might also be classified as a surgical error.
Misdiagnosis is a major category of medical error because it happens so often. A doctor will either fail to detect a patient’s dangerous condition, detect it much later than he should have, or fail to detect it until it unexpectedly kills the patient. Stage I of a certain kind of cancer, for example, might be reasonably easy to treat while Stage III might be impossible to treat effectively.
A medication error can occur in many different ways, including:
Medical errors relating to childbirth can be divided into two sub-categories: errors that occur during prenatal care, and errors that occur during childbirth. The consequences could affect the baby, the mother, or both. Examples include:
Strictly speaking, communication errors is not a separate category, because it overlaps with some of the other categories above (a doctor’s miscommunication with a pharmacist might result in a medication error, for example). Nevertheless, this semi-category is difficult to ignore because it explains so many medical errors. In fact, as a separate category, communication errors probably explain more patient deaths than all other categories combined.
Some examples of common communication errors include:
A claim arising from the death of a patient due to a medical error lies at the intersection of two different areas of personal injury law: medical malpractice law and wrongful death law.
As such, it is possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit based on medical malpractice.
Not all medical errors rise to the level of medical malpractice. For a medical malpractice claim to be successful, the doctor’s conduct must have fallen below minimum professional standards, as determined by medical experts, and the misconduct must have harmed the patient. A “medical expert” can be another doctor, or it can be someone else with advanced medical knowledge and a proven track record.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are typically complex, require expert witnesses, and must be filed by the statute of limitations deadline (usually two or three years after the malpractice occurred, depending on the circumstances). To discourage frivolous lawsuits, Connecticut has also erect a procedural barrier to filing a medical malpractice lawsuit – known as the reasonable inquiry certification requirement.
Under the Connecticut wrongful death statute, in the event of a wrongful death, the personal representative (executor) of the deceased victim’s probate estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The resulting compensation is added to the victim’s probate estate. These damages, of course, are eventually passed on to the beneficiaries of the victim’s will after the probate process has been completed. Wrongful death compensation can be very high.
If someone you love has died for reasons that you suspect are related to a medical error, call Berkowitz Hanna today or simply contact us online for a free case evaluation. We charge our clients nothing unless we win their claim. After all, why should you pay for nothing? We’re not worried about it, because we win almost all of our cases.