Researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that 9.5 percent of the deaths in Long Island are directly attributable to medical mistakes.
The 251,000 annual deaths far outpace respiratory-related fatalities, which is the next highest category. Despite this glaring statistic, the Centers for Disease Control does not even list “medical errors” as a category in its annual report. Observers speculate that not ordering diagnostic tests, not properly following up on test results, and recordkeeping errors are mostly responsible for medical mistakes.
A related study in the British Journal of Medicine proposed that expanding death certificates to include room for a narrative about possible medical complications, instead of just a code, may help the problem.
But the real issue may be doctor accountability. “We all know how common” the problem is, and “we also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed,” commented study author Dr. Martin Makary.
Time and Money at the Doctor’s Office
More than ever before, many physicians are rushed for time, mostly because most care facilities try to book as many patient visits as possible in order to increase cash flow. These conditions first appeared in the early 1990s, when Medicare changed its reimbursement formula and the managed-care phenomenon began to take off.
As a result, the 15-minute appointment is now becoming the industry standard. But there is more. Compounding this problem, many doctors review the chart and “trust their guts” to render diagnoses and treat conditions, as opposed to gathering data and acting based on that information. A recent university study found that most patients speak for only 12 seconds before their doctors interrupt them.
This combination of economic and temporal forces essentially creates a breeding ground for medical mistakes, such as:
- Refusal/Failure to Order Tests: Some doctors do not order necessary pre-diagnosis procedures, partly because they are afraid the insurance company will refuse to pay the bill and partly because they believe they already know what the problem is.
- Poor Data Interpretation: Even if the test is ordered and indicates that a patient has one condition (like fibromyalgia), the doctor may still treat it as if it were a more common condition or one more in line with known risk factors (like arthritis).
- IT Methods: Migration from facility-specific computer systems to patient-specific systems has led to some network issues and some other problems.
- The “Lone Ranger” Syndrome: Some professionals consider it a sign of weakness to ask for help, so while many doctors consult with colleagues about certain cases, they may not work with them actively.
When medical mistakes come to light, some doctors try to blame nurses and technicians for the dilemma, but physicians are responsible for patient care under their supervision. Because of these factors, and others like them, some patients are diagnosed with illnesses they do not have, while others are not properly diagnosed and precious treatment time is lost.
Damages in a medical mistake case typically include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as emotional distress. If there is evidence of intentional neglect or recklessness, as is often the case, punitive damages may be available as well.
A few moments of neglect at the doctor’s office often causes months or years of needless pain and suffering. For a free consultation with an aggressive attorney in Long Island, contact the Law Office of Cohen and Jaffe, LLP. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.