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Des Moines Personal Injury Law Blog

Preventing a medication error

As a patient, there are a number of medical professional mistakes you may encounter, such as a doctor's failure to diagnose a serious health condition. However, at Galligan & Reid, we know that medication errors are particularly problematic and have turned many lives upside down in Polk, and across the state of Iowa.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are different ways you can try to prevent a medication error. For example, you should keep a thorough list of each drug you take, even herbs and those which are sold over-the-counter, and tell your doctor to prevent an adverse interaction. You should familiarize yourself with the drugs you consume and ensure that you take the appropriate dose. Furthermore, if you think that something may be wrong or have any questions related to your prescriptions, such as how often you are supposed to consume a drug, you should immediately contact your pharmacist or physician.

Change the culture of hospitals and save a patient's life

Medicine is both art and science. The "art" part is made up of the experience and training of doctors and medical professional. Sometimes, the judgment and discretion is mistaken or in error and leads to patients suffering some form of medical negligence. It may be an infection or some minor setback that adds a few days on to their recovery. For other, it may be a devastating mistake that leaves them seriously injured or causes their death.

As recent studies repeat ominously, preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death for Americans. Given the billions that are spent every year on medical treatment, surgeries and pharmaceuticals, we should expect more and better from our healthcare system.

What did happen?

After a medical malpractice incident, those who have been injured, or in the worst cases, died, should be owed a simple explanation. One doctor, who is also a lawyer, suggests that if patients are owed information regarding what could happen during a procedure or treatment in order for informed consent to be "informed," should they not receive an explanation of what did actually happen when something goes wrong?

Hospitals and doctors often impose a "wall of silence" around any botched procedure in a misguided fear that if they admit to wrongdoing, it will impose greater liability. This is maddening to patients and their families. Among those who have suffered an incident of malpractice, the strongest impulse is to find out what happened and to help prevent others from suffering a similar fate.

Can hospitals reduce diagnostic medical errors?

The medical industry has begun to pay more attention to reducing hospital acquired infection rates. The focus on this form of medical malpractice may be coming at the expense of other common errors that harm patients. Misdiagnosis is a common problem that can have serious, even fatal consequences. A recent study analyzed the process of diagnosing patients and found where errors were likely to be introduced each step of the way. The study could pave the way for improvements in patient safety.

How patients are diagnosed

Researchers pinned down five elements or steps in diagnosis. These steps are:

  • The doctor-patient interaction
  • Running and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Following up with patients and tracking diagnostic information over time
  • Communicating with medical specialists and coordinating care
  • Helping patients and their families play a role in the diagnostic process

At each step, the study authors pinpointed improvements that could reduce the instances of misdiagnosis. 

IT companies work to develop medical diagnostic algorithms

Some Iowa residents may recall an IBM computer called Watson beating several former champions on the popular game show 'Jeopardy!" in 2011, but they may not know that a modified version of Watson was unable to replicate this success when it went up against a group of doctors the following year. Technology experts have long predicted that algorithms will one day replace human judgement in the area of medical diagnoses, but recent studies indicate that machines are not yet ready to take on these duties.

One of the chief obstacles facing technology companies is a lack of accepted benchmarks to measure the performance of their software against. Algorithms are also only accurate when they are provided with sufficient amounts of quality data, and the subject of training doctors to use these tools more effectively was discussed at length during the ninth annual Diagnostic Error in Medicine Conference, which concluded on Nov. 8.

The power of personal injury lawsuits

At Galligan & Reid, P.C., our attorneys believe in fighting for a safer Iowa. We recently published a SlideShare demonstrating the ways in which personal injury lawsuits have advanced the cause of safety. Learn more about the power of personal injury lawsuits and how they work to make all our lives better.

Children and medication safety

When Iowa parents have a sick child, their first priority is working to get that child well. They trust medical professionals to do the right thing for their children and to be particularly cautious when prescribing treatments and medications. Unfortunately, sometimes things can go awry, and children may suffer as a result.

In fact, safety in pediatric medicine is a major concern among health care professionals. In some cases, adult models of care are inappropriately used when it comes to treating children for illnesses and conditions. One significant area is that of prescribing medications to children. A drug that may be appropriate for an adult may not be for a child. Similarly, recommended dosages for children and adults are likewise often very different.

What is a human life worth?

The idea behind compensation for personal injuries or a wrongful death is that money can somehow make up for the pain and loss suffered by victims and their families. It might seem crass to suggest that a parent who has lost a child or a wife who has lost her husband can be made whole by money. The truth is that no amount of money can make up for losing a loved one, but it is the best that can be done to help victims and their families through a tragedy. Once that premise is accepted, the goal is to find the proper amount of money to award someone whose loss was the result of negligence. In other words, how much is the life lost worth, in the eyes of the law?

A controversial position

One of the common methods of valuing a life depends on the projected earnings of the victim. In the case of a worker who is well established in his or her career, this can be a simple calculation. But what if the victim is a child? How do you calculate the lifetime earnings of a 5-year-old? 

Medical malpractice insurance premiums unchanged for more than a decade

For years, doctors and hospitals have fought for ways to reduce or eliminate the rights of injured patients to receive compensation. Massive lobbying helped them implement "tort reform" in a number of jurisdictions. These groups argued that spurious litigation and runaway insurance premiums were driving the sharp rise in the cost of health care. Those groups continued their lobbying efforts when the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, was being discussed. Medical professionals claimed that lawsuits would spike and costs would rise under the ACA. A recent survey indicates that the Act has not made any difference in medical malpractice premiums.

The medical malpractice insurance canard

The reality is that medical malpractice premiums have been flat for more than a decade. Malpractice lawsuits were never the driving force behind rising health care costs. Tort reform, where it has been enacted, has not returned health care to its previously affordable levels. The only thing tort reform has done is make it harder for the victims of negligent medical care to get the money they deserve for the damage done to them. 

Study shows nursing home transitions need more resources

Based on a study that has been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, Iowa patients who are being transferred from hospitals back to nursing homes might benefit from having a nurse practitioner work with them throughout the process. Such patients are particularly vulnerable to errors. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, within days of returning to their nursing homes after a hospitalization, about 25 percent of patients with complex medical problems are harmed. In most cases, this harm is the result of errors around medication, monitoring or follow-up care.

The nurses in the study saw patients within 48 hours of being released from hospitalization. In over 50 percent of the visits, they were asked to deal with one care issue. Of the potential care issues, 32 percent were linked to physicians, 33 percent to the nursing home and 29 percent to the discharging hospital. Around 25 percent of the medication issues were related to pain medication while nearly one-third of the issues not dealing with medication were about follow-up care or actions.

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