July 2011 Archives

New Report Shows Hospitals are More Deadly than Airplanes

July 29, 2011

Alarming new research reported in Reuters shows taking a trip to the hospital is deadlier than flying on an airplane. Millions of people die every year from preventable medical mistakes and hospital-acquired infections, making hospitals far riskier than airplanes. The World Health Organization recently found that a hospital patient has a 1 in 10 chance of suffering a medical error, and a 1 in 300 chance of dying from that error. Compare this to the chances of dying in an airplane crash, a significantly less common fatality that only one in 10 million passengers will ever experience.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins know the serious risk patients face every time they walk into a hospital. We handle medical error cases on a regular basis, brought by hospital victims who suffered a serious injury or hospital associated infection while under the care of medical professionals. Most of these injuries are caused by neglect, with many hospital workers failing to take simple, hygienic steps such as washing their hands or cleaning surgical instruments with alcohol. Basic infection management strategies could save lives, but critical steps are ignored.

One study revealed hospital workers only wash their hands 25 percent of the time. Some companies offer electronic badge systems to ensure that doctors and nurses wash their hands before treating patients, but budget restraints are preventing many hospitals from taking advantage of this potentially life-saving technology. If health care professionals took just a few extra minutes to clean their hands with soap and water, more than 50 percent of all hospital-acquired infections could be prevented.

According to the report, the United States has a much higher rate of medical mistakes than European countries. Approximately 1.7 million hospital infections are acquired each year in this country, compared to 4.5 in Europe. One of the most common, life-threatening infections patients suffer is MRSA, a staph infection that can lead to many other types of infections. Flesh eating bacteria and strep are also infections that lead to serious patient harm and cost taxpayers up to $40 billion a year.

Other preventable problems, such as hospital falls or medication errors, also result in hospital-related deaths. Hospitals are liable under medical malpractice law when patients are injured by a hospital-acquired infection or preventable medical mistake.

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New Study Reveals Most Potentially Deadly Medical Mistakes Happen in July

July 20, 2011

1314902_medical_doctor.jpgAlthough preventable medical mistakes frequently occur throughout the year, new research suggests that July may be the most dangerous month for hospital patients seeking care. It's a troubling phenomenon known as the "July Effect," when new medical residents begin arriving at teaching hospitals nationwide and patient death rates consequently spike. Nearly 100,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors, and many of these victims have sought legal help from our medical malpractice attorneys. The latest study confirms that quality healthcare continues to be a serious concern, particularly during the summer months.

According to Time magazine, researchers recently concluded that the "July Effect" is more than just an urban myth. A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that death rates at teaching hospitals increase by at least 8 percent in July, when experienced medical residents graduate and new medical trainees arrive. These new doctors are caring for vulnerable patients for the first time, resulting in increased surgical complications and boosting the number of serious or even fatal medical mistakes.

One possible explanation for the decreased quality of care is that inexperienced doctors may be unfamiliar with the hospital pharmacy system, making them more likely to prescribe wrong medications or wrong doses of medications. The study also found that longer hospital stays, higher medical bills, and unnecessary tests occur more during July.

The so-called "July Effect" is a serious problem affecting about 100,000 staff members in teaching hospitals throughout the country. Some hospitals are taking notice, conducting detailed orientation sessions to ensure that doctors are properly trained and placing more experienced doctors on-call for emergencies during the summer months. But we believe more needs to be done in order to avoid preventable complications. All hospitals should have programs in place to make sure that patients receive consistent quality care, regardless of whether they get sick in July or any other month of the year. Hospitals, doctors, and nurses owe patients a legal duty of care, and this duty is obviously being violated far too often.

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Medical Device Lawyers Warn of New FDA Transvaginal Mesh Safety Alert

July 19, 2011

A recent, dramatic increase in the number of transvaginal mesh complications led the FDA to issue an updated public safety alert on July 13, 2011, warning users of the serious health risks associated with surgical mesh. Our vaginal mesh attorneys have firsthand experience with a growing number of vaginal mesh victims experiencing severe complications often requiring additional, painful surgeries. Some of the most common mesh-related problems we have witnessed include infections, urinary problems, and pain during sexual intercourse. These injuries continue to form the basis for a number of transvaginal mesh lawsuits against negligent device manufacturers.

Federal regulators first alerted the public to potential mesh complications back in 2008. After receiving more than 1,000 mesh injury reports, the FDA announced that transvaginal mesh used in pelvic organ prolapsed repair surgery may lead to "rare" problems such as serious urinary incontinence (SUI). The agency found that the surgical mesh can erode when implanted in the vagina, causing severe discomfort, bleeding, and pain. Mesh erosion can also require multiple corrective surgeries using additional mesh or stitches that are extremely expensive and may not resolve the problem.

Unfortunately, new data shows that mesh complications are not so "rare" after all. From 2008 to 2010, the FDA received nearly 4,000 reports of mesh-related injuries, including three mesh placement procedure deaths. Chronic pelvic pain, pelvic nerve damage, and painful sexual intercourse were also reported. The FDA's new, stronger warning is intended to spread public awareness about the frequency of mesh complications.

Recent studies show that approximately 10 percent of women who undergo transvaginal prolapse repairs experience mesh erosion within a year of surgery. In our opinion the risk clearly outweighs the benefits as the FDA further reported that the mesh failed to increase the effectiveness of surgery. In most cases, pelvic organ prolapse can be treated without using these dangerous surgical meshes.

Complications were reported against nine transvaginal mesh manufacturers, including Mentor ObTape, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that agreed to a number of large settlements last year with women who experienced debilitating health problems. Mentor ObTape was removed from the market in 2006. A growing number of lawsuits have also been filed by victims of Bard's Avaulta Anterior and Posterior Biosynthetic Support System, alleging that the company failed to warn users of serious health complications resulting in pain and disfigurement.

Our vaginal mesh attorneys know that manufacturers of a defective device are liable for the serious injuries that users suffer. Legal claims such as strict liability, negligence, fraud, and breach of implied or expressed warranty can all be brought against vaginal mesh manufacturers that fail to warn consumers of the risk of serious vaginal mesh side effects.

The FDA found clear risks associated with transvaginal mesh placement procedures, and an advisory meeting is scheduled in September 2011 to discuss the possibility of an outright ban. Mesh-related infections, urinary problems, pelvic discomfort, and other chronic health problems that dramatically impact a women's quality of life are on the rise and negligent manufacturers need to be held responsible. These serious side effects have been known for years, and transvaginal mesh manufacturers should have warned consumers of the serious risks.

New Research Shows Electronic Prescriptions Pose Same Danger for Patients as Handwritten Prescriptions

July 13, 2011

Our medical malpractice attorneys are disappointed by a new study confirming that technology is not doing its part to reduce harmful medication errors. The risk of error for prescriptions that are electronically sent to pharmacies appears to be the same as the error rate for handwritten prescriptions. Electronic prescriptions were initially expected to lower health-care costs and reduce preventable medical mistakes by eliminating common problems such as illegible physician handwriting. Unfortunately, electronic health records and computerized prescribing methods are not producing the anticipated benefits.

Bloomberg is reporting the latest e-prescription research, which shows that nearly 12 percent of all computer-generated prescriptions contain some sort of error. The results are based on a study of 3,850 electronically filed prescriptions sent to three different pharmacy chains. More than 450 of these prescriptions contained at least one mistake, and more than 150 of these mistakes had the potential to cause a patient harm. This rate is consistent with the error rate for prescriptions that are written by hand, indicating that pharmacy patients face a serious risk of harm, regardless of the way their prescriptions are filled.

Although different medication errors were associated with different electronic prescribing systems, one of the most common errors in the study included the omission of important information, such as dosage instructions and information on how long a patient should use the drug. Improper abbreviations were also reported, along with clinical errors in the choice of treatment.

With physicians writing more than 3 billion prescriptions every year, the risk that a patient will be harmed by a preventable medical error is significant. According to the study, 385 million prescription errors could potentially happen each year, and approximately 128 of them could cause patients serious harm.

Because the safety benefits of electronic records falling short of expectations, we believe that more needs to be done in order to protect patient safety. A large number of prescription medication mistakes could be avoided with software improvements and other advanced computer programming additions. Experts have also recommended other preventative strategies such as a "forcing function" that would not allow a prescription to be filled without all of the required information.

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Nursing Negligence Leads to Fatal Medical Error, Nurse Suicide

July 11, 2011

Adverse medical errors are a serious problem plaguing our nation's healthcare system, accounting for more than a million injuries and approximately 120,000 deaths each year. Many of these errors are preventable, and they are not limited to the wrongs of a physician. Nurses are increasingly involved in medical malpractice cases resulting from nursing negligence. Long after a medical mistake occurs, these medical professionals continue to suffer serious emotional consequences. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have experience dealing with twin casualties, such as a recent nurse suicide following a deadly medical mistake.

The Seattle Times is reporting the suicide of a registered critical-care nurse at Seattle Children's Hospital that occurred after she fatally overdosed a critically ill infant. Kimberly Hiatt worked at the hospital for 24 years before she committed the medical mistake that ended her nursing career and eventually caused her to take her own life. She administered ten times the appropriate amount of calcium chloride to an 8-month-old infant, who died five days later.

A cardiologist who worked with the victim confirmed that the medical mistake exacerbated cardiac dysfunction. The hospital immediately escorted Hiatt from the hospital after learning of the medical error, and eventually fired her. Although she was allowed to keep her nursing license, Hiatt was forced to pay a fine and agree to four years of probation, requiring supervision at future nursing jobs. The negligent nurse was so distraught from the lethal medication error that she ultimately hung herself in her own home.

Studies show that nurses, physicians, and other medical professionals who commit fatal medical mistakes often experience severe emotional trauma. Low confidence, depression, and anxiety are common, along with suicidal thoughts. In the Archives of Surgery, researchers found that surgeons who commit medical errors are more than three times more likely to consider suicide than surgeons who do not commit such errors.

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