As I’m writing this article on Thanksgiving 2018, I can’t help but think about how many medical malpractice cases I’ve seen where terrible hospital medical errors occurred during holidays.
Studies have shown that there’s an uptick in medical errors in hospitals during major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s and even long-weekend holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day. Another risky time is the month of July, when new doctors fresh out of medical school start their residency training.
As a Houston, Texas, medical malpractice attorney, my mind starts to race when a new client tells me that the medical problems happened during a holiday. I can’t help but think about the common issues that come up that tend to increase patient risk, including:
· Inexperienced nurses on duty, because more seasoned nurses are on vacation.
· Less experienced doctors or residents are present in the hospital on call because senior staff is off-duty.
· Delays in MRI, CT, and other radiology scans that aren’t ordered “stat” (as soon as possible), because of staffing shortages.
· Surgical delays because operating room staff is off.
I’ve been working on a medical malpractice case recently where a woman was admitted to a major hospital in northwest Houston because an off-site MRI showed a big mass in her colon. It’s a wrongful death case and the first time I met with the patient’s husband, he mentioned that she went to the hospital over Labor Day weekend. I immediately asked if she had experienced any delays. He looked surprised at my question and said, “Yes.”
There was a delay in getting her a colonoscopy to investigate the mass. After that procedure showed that her colon was completely blocked by a cancerous tumor, there was an additional two-day delay in getting her to the operating room for surgery. Sadly, her surgeon had recently finished his residency and was in over his head. Needless to say, the surgery didn’t go well, and it ended up needlessly taking her life.
Staying safe on the holidays
Don’t get me wrong, the people working in hospitals over the holidays are dedicated and want to do the best for their patients. In my experience, though, sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know—and that can be dangerous for patients.
To enhance your safety as a patient, keep these tips in mind when it comes to hospital care during a holiday:
· Even though it may be convenient for your work schedule, avoid scheduling any elective surgery during a holiday.
· If you must go to a hospital during a holiday, have a family member or friend stay with you 24/7 until you’re discharged. Having an extra pair of eyes and ears, and an advocate, is always a good idea.
· Ask questions. If the answers aren’t satisfactory, ask for a second opinion or to be seen by a fully-trained attending physician.
· If tests are ordered, ask why and then follow-up to make sure you’re informed of the results.
· If your condition seems to be going downhill and no doctor is around, be firm with the nursing staff. Ask them to page or call the doctor. If you’re told that they can’t reach the doctor, ask to speak with a charge nurse and insist that they page another physician.
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Also, in 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.