Four ways to uncover a harmful mistake or error by your doctor or hospital
Harvard study shows that many doctors will not tell patients when there has been a significant medical error
For the past several years, veterans all over America have faced dangerously-long wait times to see a doctor at many Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. A 2014 CNN story summed up the problem with this headline: “A fatal wait: Veterans languish and die on a VA hospital's secret list.”
The sad state of the VA hospital system was a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has pledged to get our veterans out of this mess, but it will take time.
As a veteran myself, I have followed this issue pretty closely. Before I became a Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served on active duty as a hospital administrator.
The VA punishes a whistleblower
This week, Fox News featured a story about Dale Klein, M.D., a board certified pain management doctor employed by the Southeast Missouri John J. Pershing VA Hospital.
According to the story, while working at the VA hospital, Dr. Klein found out about secret wait-lists for patient appointments and how administrators were manipulating wait-time reports so the hospital would look good on paper. He told his superiors about what he had discovered, but they did nothing. Dr. Klein then reported these serious issues to the Inspector General.
Dr. Klein says that his VA bosses retaliated against him. They closed his pain management clinic and took away his hospital privileges and patients. When they could not legally fire him, they just stuck him in an office with nothing to do. Dr. Klein said, “I sit in a chair and I look at the walls” for a typical workday.
In short, Dr. Klein claims that he spoke up in defense of patient safety and has been punished and silenced because of it.
When there is a medical mistake, they often circle the wagons
As a Houston medical malpractice attorney, the story about Dr. Klein does not surprise me.
I have seen countless cases where a patient has died or been seriously injured, but doctors and nurses try to cover up the clear and harmful mistakes of their co-workers. In many instances, when a patient is harmed and the family wants answers, the nurses and doctors circle the wagons in what has been described as a conspiracy of silence.
When doctors and nurses will not speak up about bad medical care, it allows the same mistakes to be made over and over again, at the dangerous expense of patient safety. Sadly, patients pay the price in the form with their lives.
Part of the silent treatment may be a fear for their jobs. The Houston Chronicle profiled a story about how two nurses spoke up about their concerns over a doctor’s poor care, and they were fired for it. Others may just not want to get into the comfortable situation of highlighting a medical error that may get another doctor or nurse in trouble.
Whatever the reasons, it is a bigger problem than most people realize. A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that:
(1) Up to 96% of all doctors surveyed said that they should report every instance of significant incompetence or medical errors to the hospital administration or authorities.
(2) When it came to cardiologists and surgeons, that number was only 45%.
(3) 85% of doctors agreed that they should tell patients and their family members when significant medical errors occur.
While the overwhelming majority of most doctors know the right thing to do, the study shows the stark difference in what actually happens when a medical error or malpractice occurs in the real world: 40% of doctors said they knew about a serious medical error by a co-worker, and 31% of those doctors admitted that they had done nothing about it at least once.
What does this mean for you?
When doctors and nurses put their own interests first, above those of their patients, it is often hard to know. After all, much of the health care that is provided takes place outside our presence.
As a patient or family member, though, there are some things that you can do to make it more likely that you will discover a medical error or malpractice if it occurs. And that knowledge will empower you to seek out the care and treatment that may be necessary to fix the problem. It is certainly much better than being left in the dark.
First, pay close attention to what is going when interacting with doctors and nurses. I suggest taking notes. Listen to what is said before the treatment or surgery and compare it to what is said afterward.
Second, if you have experienced a bad outcome or complication after a procedure or treatment, ask questions. If you feel like you are getting the run-around, rather than direct answers, then consider the possibility that there has been medical malpractice.
Third, ask for your relevant medical records. If there was a surgery, ask for the operative report and anesthesia records. Although you will not understand everything in them, if there something unexpected happened during the procedure, it should be mentioned there. This information will help you ask better questions and conduct any research that you need.
Finally, if there has been a serious injury or death that you think is because of a medical mistake or error, then you can hire an experienced medical malpractice attorney to help you investigate it.
At Painter Law Firm our Houston medical malpractice lawyers are available for a free consultation. Call 281-580-8800 to set it up.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
A physician has to supervise the care and prescriptions of nurse practitioners and physician assistants under written, signed agreements [...]read more
On 4/1/2018, the new law will end the current practice where doctors can secretly enter a DNR order against patient and family wishes [...]read more
A physician has to supervise the care and prescriptions of nurse practitioners and physician assistants under written, signed agreements
On 4/1/2018, the new law will end the current practice where doctors can secretly enter a DNR order against patient and family wishes
This article was originally published in the September/October 2017 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine
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