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medical mistakes Archives | Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C.

A doctor speaks about medical malpractice

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Thursday, March 21st, 2013

It is unusual for doctors to report errors caused by medical malpractice – either those they commit or those they experience. So a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times represents a call to action by at least one medical professional. 

Dr. Frederick S. Southwick describes the amputation of his left leg after a blood clot formed. He speculates about the origin of the blood clot, ultimately deciding that the clot originated from the too-tight pressure cuff used during ankle surgery many years previously. The injured blood vessels scarred and calcified blocking all blood flow to his leg.

The irony, according to Dr. Southwick, is that he has been a leader in trying to prevent medical errors. And despite the efforts of many other physicians like him, little progress has been made.

Or that’s what he thinks. However, he notes that it is actually impossible to count the number of deaths and injuries caused by medical mistakes. There is no system of national reporting. So saying that there has been no improvement is really a guess.

The best numbers available are more than 10 years old. A major study undertaken by the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 preventable deaths occur each year because of medical error. The study also assumed that for every death there are 10 injuries, making the total number of preventable medical injuries and fatalities around one million.

Dr. Southwick states that the reason for an unchanging medical error rate is that medical professionals have been unwilling or unable to change their approach to the practice of medicine.

He recommends that the medical profession adopt the kind of safety measures common in manufacturing and points to alarms and automatic shutoffs as simple but effective measures that would make it more difficult for doctors and nurses to do the wrong things.

He points to his own situation. If there had been an alarm to alert physicians to how long the cuff was used, or if it had automatically deflated after a certain period, the blood vessels in his leg might never have been damaged.

But what is most important, he says, is better communication and a willingness to address the problem of medical malpractice. He points to the controversial Affordable Care Act as a start – a recognition that the medical system needs an injection of evidenced-based treatments and reimbursement schedules to ensure that the practice of medicine harms fewer patients.

Source: New York Times, “Losing My Leg to a Medical Error,” by Frederick S. Southwick, Feb. 20, 2013.


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Experience teaches young doctor about medical malpractice, Part 2

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Thursday, January 17th, 2013

In our previous post, we introduced Dr. Elaine Goodman, who observed numerous medical mistakes while her mother was hospitalized for six months when fighting breast cancer. The second half of her story follows.

Medication Not Adjusted as Required

The mom experienced frequent medication errors that could have been avoided there been fewer doctors involved in treating her. For example, she received a drug that required frequent monitoring to adjust the dosage in relation to the patient’s nutritional status. A doctor ordered a larger dose without checking the patient’s nutritional status, resulting in a overdose that made the mom sleep for days. With fewer doctors with more awareness of the monitoring requirements of the specific medication, this might not have happened.

Wrong Chemo Drug Ordered

A similar problem arose when the mom’s oncologist was out. A covering doctor administered the regularly scheduled chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it was the wrong drug, which meant that Dr. Goodman’s mom had gone untreated for a week before the error was discovered.

Dr. Goodman learned that the incorrect drug had almost the same name as the correct drug, with the labels being almost identical.

Errors Lead to Changes in Hospital Medication Procedures

It turned out the drug that had been incorrectly administered had a name that was almost identical to the name of the correct drug, and the labels were almost identical. There were no systems in place to catch errors like this before they affected patients. Moreover, the hospital pharmacist did not have in-depth knowledge of chemotherapy drugs. Eventually, the hospital hired a new chemotherapy pharmacist, provided nurses with more training, and changed how the chemotherapy drugs were ordered and labeled.

Dr. Goodman believes that medical and hospital training and techniques have not kept up with increasingly complex treatments, medications and procedures. Moreover, nurses’ and doctors’ abilities are affected by overbooking, multitasking and functioning on very little sleep. Even the most well-trained, careful and caring provider is bound to burn out and make mistakes in such circumstances. Given the facts, it’s suprising that there are not more instances of medical malpractice.

Doctors Need Training in Patient Safety

According to Dr. Goodman, the entire system needs revamping, beginning with appropriate training in patient safety for doctors and nurses. Most medical and nursing schools, if they offer such a class at all, classify it as an elective. It should be required, she says. The culture should change to allow staff members to report events and situations that could affect patient safety – without negative consequences to the person reporting the problem.

Source: ProPublica, “What a New Doctor Learned About Medical Mistakes From Her Mom’s Death,” by Marshall Allen, Jan. 9, 2013.


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Misdiagnosis: We know when, but do we know why?

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

A recent patient safety study has revealed that at least 28 percent of patients who died in an intensive care unit (ICU) had been misdiagnosed at least once in the ICU before death. Unfortunately, questions about why this occurs have not yet been answered fully.

Part of the reason we don’t yet know “why” is that patient safety efforts have focused on non-fatal risks, such as infections, delays in treatment, falls and other events that may cause further injury or illness, but are not necessarily fatal.

However, we do know the types of fatal misdiagnoses that are most likely to occur. A study by the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality showed that one-third of misdiagnoses involved myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and aspergillosis. And in eight percent of these, the misdiagnosis could be shown to be a direct cause of death.

Many have speculated about and studied the problems that can result in misdiagnoses in hospital ICU and emergency room (ER) settings. Among the most commonly cited are language barriers and lack of translators, overworked physicians, undertrained doctors at the resident and intern level, failure to maintain diagnostic equipment (or lack of the equipment altogether), and inadequate staffing levels.

However, because we do know the conditions that are most likely to be misdiagnosed in an ICU or ER setting, patient safety experts can begin developing protocols to overcome some of the problems that interfere with correct diagnoses. .

Source: Clinical Advisor, “ICU misdiagnoses claim as many as 40,500 lives per year,” Sep. 18, 2012.


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Proposal may allow for improved hospital safety information

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Even though they are concerned about liability and financial penalties, hospitals say they are receptive to an idea proposed by President Obama that would encourage patients to report medical mistakes. The government says that medical errors often go unreported and that hospitals could improve their safety records if they had more information.

Carolyn Clancy, director of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said, “Currently, there is no mechanism for consumers to report information about patient safety events.” The agency has drafted a flier that includes questions such as, “Have you recently experienced a medical mistake? Do you have concerns about the safety of your health care?” And it urges patients to contact a new “consumer reporting system for patient safety.”

“Patient reports could complement and enhance reports from providers and thus produce a more complete and accurate understanding of the prevalence and characteristics” of medical errors, Dr. Clancy said. The proposed reporting system would allow patients and their relatives to report medical mistakes through a website and in telephone interviews. Health officials hope to start collecting information in May. Reporting will be voluntary, and information provided by patients will be kept confidential.

This initiative is in line with other government efforts to improve the quality of care provided in hospitals and other clinical settings. In recent years, federal officials have tried to develop mechanisms that link quality of care with Medicaid and Medicare payments. Collecting more information from patients could be an effective way to improve patient outcomes and safety.

Source: Post-Gazette, “Feds want patients to report medical provider mistakes,” Sep. 23, 2012


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Medical malpractice at City Hospitals takes a toll on innocent victims

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Recent court documents reveal that the cost of the needless harm inflicted on residents in the city’s 11 public hospitals amounts to millions as determined by medical malpractice verdicts and settlements. In the fiscal year that ended in June 2012, the city paid $134 million. In the past four years, medical malpractice has cost the city more than half a billion dollars. Yet the city offers no plan to address this lack of proper care and improve patient safety.

The cases involve a wide range of medical errors, from obstetrical mistakes that have left babies brain-damaged to undiagnosed brain aneurysms. The eleven public hospitals include the Queens Hospital Center, where an infant suffered a skull fracture during birth. A Bronx hospital did not have the equipment needed to revive a baby quickly; today, the child can barely speak.

A woman from Queens was released from Elmhurst Hospital but collapsed three days later. Physicians at the hospital had failed to diagnose a brain aneurism; the woman is in a permanent vegetative state today.

The city has not responded directly to the report, but notes that medical malpractice verdicts and settlements are slightly down from the previous year, and are significantly down from the all-time high of $193 million in 2003. The current report lists 270 cases that resulted in verdicts or settlements to patients and their families whose lives were turned upside down by medical negligence and error.

The medical malpractice payments are only a fraction of the harm the city inflicts on it’s residents, which is estimated to reach $735 million this year, as detailed in a previous blog.

Source: Daily News, “Medical malpractice lawsuits have cost city $134 million this year and range from babies crushed to crucial misdiagnoses,” Aug. 27, 2012.


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Jury awards $78.5 million for faulty ultrasound

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The personal and financial hardship of a disability is severe and impacts a family for life. Victims suffer a lifetime of cognitive and physical injuries, while their families are burdened with responsibility and care for their adult children. Last week, a jury agreed that the hardship was overwhelming and awarded a woman $78.5 million for her son who suffers from cerebral palsy because of faulty diagnostic procedures by a Pennsylvania hospital where the child was delivered.

The plaintiff had arrived at the hospital with complications caused by a lack of oxygen to her unborn child. According to experts, the brain damage could have been averted had the doctors pursued a prompt delivery. The woman was given an immediate ultrasound when the doctor concluded that the fetus was already dead. When the hospital staff performed a later, second ultrasound, a fetal heartbeat was detected and an emergency cesarean section was performed to save the life of the baby.

The lawyer for the plaintiff contended that the 81-minute delay caused the fetus to deteriorate and resulted in cerebral palsy. The jury agreed that if the hospital had provided a trained ultrasound technician and used better equipment, the injury could have been prevented. The jury did not find the doctor responsible, but blamed the hospital for the incident.

Birth injury cases are always emotional and many believe that the significant verdict is entirely justified, given the trauma to the mother and the child. The verdict is intended to provide financial compensation for future medical care of the child, lost earnings, pain and suffering for the baby as well as emotional distress for the single mother.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Phila. Jury awards $78.5M in medical malpractice case,” Chris Mondics, May 6, 2012


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Wrongful death trial claims medical malpractice

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

A mother of three suffered a wrongful death at the hands of an emergency room doctor. This is the claim of her husband of 28 years who says that if the emergency room doctor who treated her had recognized his wife’s condition in a timely manner, then she would most likely be alive today.

Her husband has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit claiming medical malpractice caused by the negligence of a doctor in his failure to treat the condition of the 45-year-old woman.

She had suffered a fall and was brought to an emergency room in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York. According to the evidence, a CT scan showed that the woman’s brain was bleeding.

However, the husband claims that the emergency room doctor did not respond to her condition in a timely manner. This is because she went into a coma soon thereafter. She did undergo surgery later that day, but the damage had already been done. Doctors informed her family that she would not recover. The next day her family decided to remove her from life support.

Emergency room doctors are placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to make accurate decisions very quickly as to the proper care of a patient. Unfortunately, when they make a mistake and fail to treat a medical condition, the patient has lost precious time, which many times can result in even more severe injuries, and sometimes even death.

This case is currently at trial. The defense is suggesting that the woman had an underlying medical condition that resulted in her death. However, the question remains: If the emergency room doctor had treated her bleeding brain right away, would she have survived?

Source: NorthJersey.com, “Medical negligence trial involving Chilton doctor gets under way,” John Petrick, April 26, 2012


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New York Woman Gets $18 Million after Medical Error

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

It’s difficult to put a price tag on a body part but for the victim of medical malpractice in New York City, the price was $17.9 million.

The victim sued both New York City as well as Brooklyn Hospital Center after a botched medical procedure left her without any limbs and made her blind in one eye.

Three years after the claim arose, the defendants decided to settle, fearing the medical malpractice victim would get too much sympathy from a jury at trial.

In 2008, the victim made a trip to Brooklyn Hospital’s emergency room. According to the New York Daily News, she was told she had kidney stones and received painkillers as a result. However, the medical error victim was still in extreme pain the following day and proceeded to call 911 two times. Each cry for help went unheard, as medics declined to bring her to the hospital.

The victim here made it to the hospital, ended up in a coma and awoke missing hands, feet and sight in one eye. Part of the victim’s $17.9 million settlement will cover pain and suffering as well as future medical expenses.

It’s definitely difficult to put a price on one’s body part. When a person is the victim of medical malpractice, experienced legal counsel can help get the best compensation for the injury.

Strangely, body part values are treated like lost wages. The calculation is usually determined by looking at the age of the victim before and after the bodily injury.

Personal injury attorneys in New York may look to the workers’ compensation fee schedule to get an idea as to a value for lost limbs when calculating potential settlements. In this system, each part of the body is given a rating and it’s also based on the injured employee’s present wages.

Source: Findlaw.com, “NYC amputee wins 18m from city hospital,” Mar. 7, 2012. 


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Girl’s family reaches settlement with hospital for medical malpractice

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Friday, November 4th, 2011

A little girl and her family have settled a medical malpractice case. The family sued the hospital for medical malpractice after a delay in the ER led to the worsening of their daughter’s staph infection and the eventual amputation of both her legs below the knee, all of one hand and part of her other hand.

The little girl will need wheelchairs and therapy for the rest of her life because of the medical errors and misdiagnosis of the ER staff. The little girl almost died the day that her family brought her to the ER. Her parents noticed that she had a fever and had been getting weaker and weaker and decided to bring her to the ER. She also had bruising on her face.

The triage nurse at the ER said that the little girl had a virus and rash and told her parents to wait. The family waited five hours. While the family was waiting, the parents noticed their daughter getting weaker and the bruising growing to cover her whole face. The father repeatedly complained to the nurse, but the nurse continued to say it was a rash.

When the little girl went limp, the father could not wait any longer and pushed back through the doors and asked another nurse to look at his daughter. That nurse brought her back immediately. The little girl had to be flown to a children’s hospital. She almost died.

The settlement will take care of the little girl’s ongoing medical expenses for the rest of her life.

Source: Associated Press, “Girl to get $10M for amputations after ER delay,” Oct. 28, 2011


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VA hospital sued for medical malpractice over death of war veteran

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On behalf of of Kahn Gordon Timko & Rodriques P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Friday, September 2nd, 2011

The Veterans Administration operates hospitals across the country, including in New York. Recently, a medical malpractice suit was filed against a Veterans Administration Hospital in the death of an Iraqi war veteran.

The 32-year-old war veteran marched into Baghdad with Operation Iraqi Freedom. Trained as a medic, he was responding to a call to help soldiers in a downed helicopter when the vehicle in which he was riding was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. He was returned to the U.S. partially disabled and was awarded a Bronze Star from the U.S. Army.

Last year, the injured soldier went to a VA hospital after falling in his home. VA doctors found he had fractured his right tibia and sent him home with crutches and pain medicine. A date for surgery had yet to be scheduled.

Several days later, he returned to the VA hospital with respiratory problems. He was given oxygen and sent home with more painkillers. Two days later, the veteran was found unresponsive in his home. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

The man was also being treated by the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury. The lawsuit filed by his widow alleges that the VA did not monitor the drugs he was taking and that the VA failed in its duty to provide necessary, appropriate and reasonable medical care.

The soldier’s death certificate indicates that he died as the result of mixed drug intoxication and a pulmonary emboli resulting from the leg fracture. He had been taking at least six different prescription drugs.

The initial lawsuit against the VA does not specify damages, but an additional wrongful death lawsuit filed in Federal Court against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking a $5 million dollar settlement.

Source: Deseret News, “Widow of decorated Iraqi vet files wrongful death suit against VA hospital,” Dennis Romboy, Aug. 19, 2011


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