Facts and myths about medical negligence

How far can you go trusting your healthcare provider? How much faith do you have thinking that they can never go wrong? If you think that doctors are God-like beings who have the power to extend your life and make you well again,  well then I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. If you learn that doctors are the third killers next to cancer and heart disease, would you still hold on to your belief and trust them?

If you can still confidently say yes, you trust your doctors with all these questions, then I’d happily say you are lucky and you should be very thankful whoever your healthcare providers are. Sadly not everyone have good healthcare providers and some have even experienced the worst from these people who are supposedly the ones who would make us feel better.

When you lose a loved one due to old age or terminal diseases, it can be very painful but quite acceptable. What about the loss of  loved ones due to an error made by the very hands you fully entrust their lives to? There is nothing more painful to this of course, thinking that death or injury could have been prevented if only people involved have laid their heart and given their 100% and even more to their responsibility.

Medical negligence or medical error or medical malpractice does exists and has changed and even ended lives of many people and we should be aware of it. It can happen to you and me and to anyone else we hold dearly.

Medical malpractice can be defined as a deviation from what is considered to be standard care where patients are put to risk.

According to 1999 statistics there are around 98,000 of mortality in a year due to medical error and about 1,000 of medical errors or negligence take place in hospitals everyday. According to Journal of Patient Safety, today the figure may be much higher with 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who suffer from preventable error in hospitals which contributes to their death.

10 Facts and Myths about Medical Negligence:

1. Myth #1: Money is the prime motivation in medical negligence lawsuits.

While it is true that victims of errors can be compensated for the damages done, this is not the main reason why doctors are being sued. In fact, medical error payouts have dropped to 50% between the years 2003-2008; a figure provided by the The National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Money is not the prime motivation for seeking medical error claims

What if you find yourself in this situation where you or any of your loved ones suffer from medical negligence? What is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it only about money? Sadly in UK alone, medical related claims are badly judged as a way of making money. This is inevitable because unfortunately, some people do lie about medical errors and blame their healthcare providers for something that can truly be accidental. Likewise, medical negligence law firms also are taking the opportunity to harvest more people to claim for any medical errors there is. It is becoming an abused system but still, we have to respect the truth that it does genuinely happen to other people.

We should not judge people straight away when it comes to medical negligence lawsuits. Everything is not all about money. When you yourself would be in this horrible situation, its justice that counts more than anything else. Even the most stone-hearted people would even want to commit their lives just to stop an irresponsible doctor or other medical practitioners harming other people. Afterall, money is nothing compared to a lost limb, a disfigured face, a life changed or a life lost. Justice is what triggers lawsuits and not necessarily claims or payouts.

2. Myth #2: Most people who file for medical malpractice lawsuits are poor.

Believe it or not but this statement is definitely wrong. Truth is, studies have shown that vulnerable people are less likely to file charges against medical malpractice. Evidence show that the less fortunate in terms of socioeconomic status have the lowest number of medical negligence claims which was reflected with a study across 51 New York hospitals conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association entitled, “Do the poor sue more?“.
[quote_left] “Poor and uninsured patients are significantly less likely to sue for malpractice”-JAMA[/quote_left]

Despite the usual assumptions we have, the poor and the indigent would not actually have the courage to file a lawsuit let alone are they bothered to start a situation that they are not comfortable with. In their world, everything is simple and they are used to leave things as it is especially when these people are in a condition where they have no confidence and consider everything to be hopeless. “The indigent are not demanding.. they are accustomed to losing… ” as Maggie May of Health Beat mentioned.

3. Myth # 3. Most medical malpractice cases are of minor injuries.

Of the many of medical errors committed each year, a study done by Harvard shows that 90% involved physical injury. Out of the physical injury medical error lawsuits filed, it revealed that most of the cases were severe; 80% resulted in significant or major disability while 26% sadly ended up to death. Only a few cases are actually considered to be classed as minor injuries.

The fact that medical malpractice cases are comprised of serious cases and even death is alarming. It is totally unacceptable to know that people’s lives are greatly affected just because of a healthcare provider’s mistake.

This goes to show that people can be forgiving. Not everyone would go to length to fight in courts or break their relationships with their healthcare providers. Whether this is right or wrong totally depends upon the injured person. Sometimes an apology is enough but in other cases, no matter how minor an injury is, more attention is needed in order to address the issue especially if you are not the only victim or if it is not the first time you experienced this with the same doctor.

4. Myth #4. Medical errors cannot be prevented.

Only a fool would claim that errors cannot be prevented. Though there are truly some instances when doctors have done their very best utilized every possible procedure to save patients, majority of errors are quite preventable. Some of the most common medical practices are surgeries on wrong person or wrong body part, wrong surgery procedure, misdiagnosis, wrong or overdose on drugs, medical tools contamination and plenty more on the list which are said to be occurring at least 40 times weekly in hospitals in the US.

As a registered nurse myself, I had my own experiences witnessing medical errors and sad to say, it does happen frequently that sometimes you even lose faith in the healthcare system itself. But for humanity, we can’t afford to give up.. The more we allow low quality healthcare, the more victims there will be. Every thing, big or small matters in the field of medicine, we handle lives of people of which we should be more responsible of.

5. Fact # 1. Doctors are the main players in committing medical malpractice.

doctors-medical-malpractice
Doctors are the main contributors to staggering medical errors

Doctors or the medical practitioners is responsible for the 80% of all adverse events in healthcare and hospitals. This is no surprising figures at all. While we all respect and admire doctors and what they do for the society, they too should be reminded how much trust every we as patient gives every time we seek for help for the betterment of our health. It is but a relief to see more and more doctors discover ground breaking medications, innovative procedures and doctors that don’t stop improving themselves through studying even while at work. It is quite a sad news though that quality of healthcare is declining with the rise among incompetent doctors. Looking at the register of doctors in my area alone, only 3 in 10 doctors are recommended by their own patients and the rest have very low ratings and surprisingly negative comments about their service..

6. Fact #2. Hospital medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US

The Journal of Patient Safety conducted an evidenced based study on patient harm associated with hospital care and as a result of this, they estimated around 400,000+/- patients die due to medical errors every year in US. This figure comes next to heart diseases and cancer which are the top 2 main causes of death year 2013 for Americans.

Even if these numbers only apply for the US, globally, medical errors are undeniably rising. Nobody can give an exact figure as to how many cases of medical malpractice are there. Hospitals can forge reports and opt not to document the real number of cases to cover up for their reputation which did occur even here in UK with the infamous Stafford Hospital scandal. Other hospitals also try to settle the problem out of court commonly by paying the family or even worst, threatening the vulnerable victims; they do this just to protect themselves even up to the point of covering up for a murderer. Disgusting but it does happen in real life.

7. Fact #3.  Money spent due to medical errors is sky rocketing

The United States spend around $260 billion every year for errors and negligence in healthcare.  The Institute of Medicine reports that $130 billion of the annual budget is spent for inefficiently delivered services plus $75 billion on fraud and $55 billion on missed prevention opportunities. All these billion dollar unnecessary spending can be lowered if only healthcare providers would appreciate the importance of their responsibilities. A single case of medical error contributes a lot to the nation’s financial burden.

Also, in UK, The Guardian reported that the hospitals are ‘wasting’ £2.5 billion of the National Health Services (NHS) annual budget. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says this amount goes to waste due poor care and medical errors; he pointed out that the challenges that the Trust (NHS) currently faces should not be a reason to compromise on quality healthcare. Yes we are aware of the pressure hospitals, directors and doctors in particular felt during these hard times but it is also ridiculous that one of the examples of medical errors cited is of drug overdose which costs £770 million for the NHS to treat the unwanted effects.

The country’s budget wherever we may live is very essential to meet the needs of its people. Healthcare is really an important need to focus on but for people to pay for the mistakes of irresponsible healthcare providers is just utterly unjust.

8. Fact #4. Only few negligent medical practitioners are charged

There is only 7.4% probability for an average American doctor to get charged of negligence and only 20% of these erring practitioners are found negligent. With the study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that in a year, only 1 out of 14 doctors are being sued and that only 20% of all claims end up in payouts.

It is also said that only half of the one percent of practitioners facing medical malpractice lawsuits are being seriously sanctioned by the state. We do trust and love our doctors that sometimes they are even considered as part of our families but they too should be treated like any other working professional and face consequences in the event of committing medical errors especially that in this case, it involves peoples lives

9. Fact # 4. Medical errors can be reduced with modern updated technology

doctor-writing-prescription
Some countries still utilize the old pen and paper prescription method

A non-profit organization called Leapfrog group did a research about computerized physician order entry (CPOE). Forbes identified the lack of modern technology in hospitals as a shocking truth and one of the major reasons why medication errors occurs. How does CPOE work? It is actually a computerized way of prescribing where the authorized healthcare prescriber uses computer to enter medication orders in a system that already contains key information about the patient such as allergies, medical condition, lab values and such and sends this to the pharmacist/chemist; the computer double checks the appropriateness of the order therefore reducing errors. In this way medication errors brought by incomprehensible prescriptions, medication allergies, even wrong drugs can be minimized dramatically. To date, NHS in UK and other developed countries are slowly adapting the system; unfortunately many countries still use the old pen and paper method.

[quote_box_center]Estimated 1 million medication errors happen each year, contributing to 7,000 deaths.[/quote_box_center]

There are also a lot of hospitals that still don’t have modern diagnostic machines such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and even simple computerized tomography CAT scan. Some may argue that this is just too lucrative but the fact is, many victims fall into misdiagnosis just because of old and outdated practices doctors have to rely on since they really have no other choice.

If ordinary people like you and me can afford to work hard for the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy smartphone, then perhaps it is not too impossible for the state to keep a portion of the budget to slowly upgrade hospital technology. Afterall, we are wasting too much money in trying to correct errors rather than making the entire system and healthcare service better.

10. Fact # 5. Majority of medical malpractice results to death and irreversible damages.

Among the 75 largest counties in US, 90% of medical malpractice claims involves permanent damage and even fatalities. Lawsuits are also staggering here in UK mostly from family members of a deceased victim or of serious cases. Sad to witness almost everyday how new lives are torn apart due to medical malpractice and negligence which are highly preventable.

More and more people are aware of their rights as patients but to address the issue of medical malpractice, it is better to work on prevention, more protection for patients, and more competent healthcare providers rather than losing lives and committing more mistakes and investing too much on claims and compensations.

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