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February 2014 Archives

Errors Are Anything But Harmless In A Medical Setting

Forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed, mix up the salt with the pepper, accidentally leave a red sock in the white load of laundry or fail to take your vitamins, and it probably isn’t going to be a life-altering mistake. Errors as small as these ones, when made in a medical setting can cause permanent patient damage or even a wrongful death.What if a surgeon fails to wash his or her hands or sanitize a piece of medical equipment before conducting another surgery on a different patient? This could cause a patient undergoing cataract surgery to suffer the loss of vision. What about failing to read every word on a medicine bottle? It could mean that a 14-month-old baby is injected with medication that should have been taken orally.Those cases mentioned above aren’t hypothetical at all. While we may have taken some liberty in assuming that a label was misread when it might have been a charting error or something else, the drug error and patient were real and the case was reported to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. In fact, there are approximately 8,000 cases of medical mistakes such as this one reported to the agency each year.The agency is in a unique position to see the state-wide picture, to understand trends and commonalities in a broader number of cases. The agency was established in 2002 by Act 13, and staff members search through up to 240,000 incident reports each year to find these common occurrences. Then, the agency helps suggest and establish practices that will hopefully help decrease the chance that patients will suffer harm as a result of a medical error.A medical malpractice lawsuit often takes the opposite view. Instead of the bigger picture, it focuses on an individual situation and compensates the victim for the very specific and very real damage that the victim suffered. Those that have questions about their personal situation should discuss their legal options with a Harrisburg medical malpractice lawyer.Source: TribLIVE, “Safety agency watches for trends to protect Pa. patients,” Akasha Chamberlain, Feb. 22, 2014

UPMC Altoona Nurses Say Patient Safety Is Their Primary Concern

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Altoona recently underwent a change in ownership. Although the name of the hospital has changed several times over the years, nurses that have worked there for two decades or more said that this is the first change that has actually put the safety of patients at risk.These nurses took to the streets, braving the cold weather to improve the working conditions for themselves and more importantly their patients. The nurses went on strike, protesting with their co-workers and other concerned citizens. Despite being told that their temporary replacements were earning $20 more per hour than they were paid, they continued to battle, refusing to cross the line and play a role in lowering the standards of patient care and safety.How was the safety of patients being put at risk? These nurses said that the new working conditions can result in a robotic “series of tasks,” as one 22-year nursing veteran said. When this happens, nurses can “miss subtle changes in a patient’s condition that could be an early indicator of complications,” she said. Hospital errors such as these could be considered medical malpractice too.Even in cases where medical malpractice isn’t an issue, without “good ratios” of nurses to patients, the care becomes too clinical, removing the personal element. “You lose those one-on-one moments of caring and compassion, which is so important in nursing,” the veteran on strike told media sources.These nurses aren’t the only ones in Pennsylvania that put the interests of patients first. While a personal injury attorney can’t change the past, the attorney can help address the actions of the past with a goal of helping victims in a way that will better their future. This is accomplished by way of a civil lawsuit for damages that compensate victims for the harm that they suffered.Source: Women News Network, “U.S.: Pennsylvania nurses strike for better work, patient care & safety,” Cameron Conaway, Feb. 13, 2014

FDA: Are Drug Ads' Side Effects Warnings Doing Their Job?

We have all probably heard them, those long listings of side effects reported at the end of a television drug commercial. Listening closely, some of those side effects include nausea, shortness of breath, internal bleeding, allergic reaction, dry mouth, heart attack and more. Those lists seem to go on and on... and on. A "Friends" episode even poked fun at the idea that "headache" could be a side effect of a headache-relief drug.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration understands that these risks are very real, but the agency wants to know if these long lists are effective in warning consumers about the possible risks. FDA officials wonder if shorter, condensed lists or even a simple warning to consult a doctor would be more effective. To find out, the FDA plans to conduct a consumer study.The FDA fears that this practice of stating long lists during a television ad may "reduce consumer comprehension" of the serious risks involved. The agency is concerned that these lists are simply "too long" to hold a consumer's attention. According to the NY Daily News, this inattention may contribute to millions of medication errors annually.The study plans to find out if consumers would respond better to statements that list only a couple of serious side effects or a simple statement that there are "additional risks." The traditional commercials would be included in the sample as a control. The results of this study would then be used to determine if changes need to be made to these commercial requirements.Although it may be easy for consumers to tune out during a commercial in which the spokesperson is rambling on about the many risks, we noted above that the risks are still very real. Many of these drugs require a prescription from a doctor. Even where a consumer may ignore the commercial's warnings, a doctor must carefully consider a patient's medical history to determine if the drug is safe for use by the particular patient before writing a prescription.Patients in Pennsylvania that are harmed by a medication error may be able to seek compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.Source: NY Daily News, "FDA looks into limiting TV commercials' rambling lists of drug risks," James Warren, Feb. 18, 2014

Hospital Puts 18 Patients At Risk For Rare But Fatal Disorder

Hospitals are filled with protocol. A few of these rules are utilized on a daily basis, like requiring doctors to wash hands before and after entering the room of a post-operative patient. In other cases, the protocols may be used less often, like one requiring that surgical instruments used on a patient with symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease undergo enhanced sterilization before they are used on another patient.Even though some protocols may be exercised less often, they are in place for a reason. The situation mentioned above wasn’t a random example; it is a protocol that was recently passed over in one hospital, resulting in 18 patients being exposed to a very rare but very fatal disorder.Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a disorder that affects the brain, causing patients to suffer dementia that progresses at a rapid pace. Although the incubation period for the disorder may last years, once the symptoms present, the patient may have only weeks or months to live. The disorder is incurable, always fatal and unusually resistant to normal disinfection and sterilization procedures.In this case, the hospital conducted a procedure on a patient that had visible symptoms of the disorder that the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says is involved in 200 cases per year in the U.S. When the procedure was over, the tools were not sent for enhanced sterilization. Instead, they were used in 18 more neurosurgeries.When a patient is injured by a hospital’s failure to follow protocol, it could act as the basis for a medical malpractice claim. Whether there is a viable claim or not isn’t always the easiest diagnosis for the average person to make, which is why patients injured in Pennsylvania should seek the counsel of a Harrisburg attorney immediately.Source: Modern Healthcare, “18 patients exposed to fatal brain disorder at N.C. hospital,” Sabriya Rice, Feb. 11, 2014

Female Heart Disease: Primary Docs Often To Blame For Misdiagnosis

Last week, we wrote about the importance of a fast and accurate diagnosis in cases where a condition is potentially life-threatening. As just one example, heart disease/heart attacks are commonly either misdiagnosed by physicians or not diagnosed at all. It goes without saying that the results can be devastating. Who is responsible for making an accurate diagnosis of heart disease and communicating it clearly to the patient? The specific medical professional can vary, but in many cases the responsibility lies with a person's primary care physician. According to a recent study, PCPs are the most commonly sued medical professionals when heart disease in female patients goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed. The study, containing data from 41 medical malpractice claims, was conducted by an insurance company specializing in medical liability. All claims involved female patients and alleged deaths/injuries from cardiac disease. An analysis of the group of claims revealed which types of medical professionals were named as defendants and how often. According to the study:

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