Archive for the ‘Catastrophic Personal Injury’ Category

Autism and Wandering – a constant struggle

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I have written before in this space about special needs children, including children with autism. This week I want to turn my attention to one aspect of autism – wandering – and some of the ways parents and schools are trying to keep kids safe. Wandering is something I really had not heard of before, but I’ve since learned that it is a serious danger to children with autism or other cognitive deficits. It is also a major source of stress to parents who are constantly worried about their child wandering off.

All children have a tendency to wander away from their parents at times. When my daughter was two, I lost her at Sports Authority. I thought she was standing right next to me while I was looking at something, then I looked down and she was gone. After a few frantic minutes – and with the quick help of the store employees – we found her all the way on the opposite side of the store looking at balls. She was perfectly fine, but it was terrifying for me.

For reasons that are not well understood, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to wander more than non-autistic children. As reported by the Child Mind Institute and others, a recent study by the Interactive Autism Network has finally tried to quantify what has traditionally been more anecdotal evidence about wandering.

According to the responses from more than 800 parents, roughly 50 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 10 with an ASD wander at some point, four times more than their unaffected siblings. The behavior peaks at 4, almost four times higher than their unaffected siblings, but almost 30 percent of kids with an ASD between the ages of 7 and 10 are still eloping, eight times more than their unaffected brothers and sisters.

Autistic children seem to wander for two basic reasons. One is to find something they like, such as their favorite pond or playground; and one is to get away from something they don’t like such as a stressful school environment. It’s not really running away, at least as that term is usually used to describe a child who decides to leave home because of some real or perceived injustice at home. A majority of parents in the study described their child as happy and focused when they wandered off. It is usually a matter of the child being drawn to something that he or she likes. One child referenced in the Child Mind story had a fascination with exit signs. One day at school, the boy wandered off through the woods toward the highway to find his favorite exit sign. Thankfully, a good Samaritan picked-up the boy and returned him to where he belonged.

The danger for children is very real. While concrete statistics are difficult to come by, drowning seems to be the biggest danger (there are some who believe that autistic children are drawn to water). Children can also wander into traffic. Of course, when any small child wanders alone there is the risk of getting lost or being abducted. To further complicate matters, thirty-five percent of families in the study reported that their child is never or rarely able to communicate basic identifying information such as name, address and phone number. This obviously makes it harder for a wandering child to get back home. Even older or more high-functioning children may – due to their social anxiety – be reluctant to seek out help or cooperate with someone who is trying to intervene.

Wandering represents a challenge to schools because it can be very difficult to monitor a child all day long, especially during class changes and recess. The problem, however, also occurs at home. Wandering occurs not just during the day; night-time wandering is an especially big fear for parents of autistic children. Some children have been known to get up in the middle of the night, undo the deadbolt on the front door, and walk-off into the night. The terror of finding your child gone in the middle of the night is unimaginable. Some parents have installed deadbolts higher up on the doors, some have installed alarms that go off if the door is opened. Some parents have gone so far as to have their children wear tracking devices that send out a signal that can be pin-pointed. While all of these techniques can help, there are no sure-fire methods of preventing wandering. It is a constant worry for parents.

The autism community has taken action by getting the Center for Disease Control’s safety subcommittee to assign a specific medical code for wandering, which will be in conjunction with the diagnosis of ASD. By doing this, it is hoped that doctors will more readily recognize wandering as a legitimate diagnosis that they can address with the parents or other caregivers (the new code applies to adults with ASD as well). The American Academy of Pediatrics is also preparing a fact sheet to educate doctors on the topic so that they can better work with parents to try to reduce the incidence of wandering. The new code may also make it easier for parents to seek reimbursement from their insurance companies for alarms and tracking devices, and it may make it easier for parents to argue to their schools that a one-on-one monitor is needed as part of the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The new code takes effect in October 2011.

Lori McIlwain, Chairwoman of the National Autism Association, recently discussed how to deal with wandering:

The best overall strategy is a multi-tiered approach, which includes educating the child about safety and dangers using whatever means of communication works, including social stories, language and/or visual prompts. It’s also important that caregivers—and schools—work to understand what is causing, or contributing to, the wandering or bolting behaviors so that any triggers may be addressed or eliminated.

Have any of our readers had any experience with wandering? I’d like to hear your stories as to how you deal with it and how it affects your life.

Related Nash and Associates Links:

Dogs a Huge Help to Special Needs Kids

The Daily Struggle of Raising a Disabled Child

Many Parents Still Believe Vaccines Cause Autism

 

 

Photo courtesy of: Issueswithautism.com

Service dogs in school — a fresh look

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Service Dog and Boy

service dogs

A while back I wrote a piece on the topic of service dogs for kids and mentioned the use of service dogs in schools. A regular reader of our blog then wrote in with a number of comments and questions about the propriety of dogs in schools. To help answer her questions, I recently spoke with Nancy Fierer, who is the Director at Susquehanna Service Dogs in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which is an organization that trains and places service dogs. Susquehanna is the organization that placed two of the dogs mentioned in this NPR story.

The ADA and dogs in school

I also did a little more research on the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its impact on the issue. The ADA requires that all public facilities allow a disabled person and his or her service dog (not pets) to enter the premises just the same as a non-disabled person. So is a school considered a public facility? It’s an interesting question. On the one hand it is accessible to the public in the sense that parents and students can freely enter a school. However, if you’re not the parent of a child at the school, can you just walk into a school and roam the halls like you might roam around a mall? I think if you tried that, you would get stopped pretty quickly and asked to leave if you had no valid business there. However, the law appears to be settled that schools are considered public facilities at least for those areas that are open to the public such as administrative offices, gymnasiums during sporting events, and auditoriums during public events. Therefore, schools must be accessible to service dogs in these public areas. For class rooms, however, it’s not so clear. While the law appears to favor allowing service dogs in class rooms, it is being decided on a case-by-case basis because there are other considerations as well – the age of the child, the disability at issue, the ability to control the dog, etc.

How much school assistance is necessary?

I have to admit that when I first wrote on this topic, I had envisioned that the dog and child were a self-contained unit that required little in the way of adult assistance. Ms. Fierer indicated that that is usually not the case. Depending on the age of the child and the level of disability, the child may be able to care for the dog independently. However, in most instances an adult (teacher’s aide or nurse perhaps) is required to pitch in with help giving the dog water and taking it out for bathroom breaks. Ms. Fierer indicated that the dog does need water breaks during the day (feeding can be done at home before and after school). This is usually accomplished by keeping a water bowl in a nearby room – perhaps a nurse’s office or a counselor’s office. Several times a day, either the child (if he/she is old enough) or an adult can take the dog for a drink. The same is true for bathroom breaks (pee only; No. 2 is usually taken care of at home). Again, service dogs do require assistance from the school but from what Ms. Fierer told me, the disruption is fairly minimal and can be worked out with proper planning.

Controlling a service dog

A larger issue is the child’s ability to control the dog. Even though service dogs are highly trained, the owner (in this case a child) must still be able to control the dog before being permitted to take a dog into school. These include such basic commands as making the dog sit, stay, come, leave it, and walk on loose leash. These are some of the common commands that all service dogs must know. In addition, a service dog also receives additional training in a particular disability and learns specific commands unique to that disability, e.g., retrieving specific items, pulling a wheelchair, responding to seizures, search and rescue. These commands must be mastered as well. For example, if an autistic child is in need of the dog to put its head in the child’s lap to help calm him/her down, the child (or a trained adult) has to be able to give the dog that command. If the child cannot give that command to the dog, then it undermines the usefulness of the dog in school.

Because of the demands that service dogs place on the child, very young children usually do not take dogs to school unescorted. Ms. Fierer said she would be surprised to see a six-year-old, for example, taking a dog to school alone. Older children can, with proper training, be permitted to take a dog to school alone. To ensure that the child is capable of caring for the dog, Susquehanna utilizes the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test. This test requires the owner and the dog to perform multiple tests in a variety of settings to ensure that the dog is well-trained and that the owner can properly control the dog. For children, Ms. Fierer indicated that the testing is usually administered with the parent and child because she uses the team approach – the parent, child and dog are a team. For a child taking the dog to school, however, the parent is usually not there so the child must be able to control the dog independently. Only when a child is adept at controlling the dog should the child be permitted to take the dog to school. Even then, parents have to work closely with the child’s teacher and other school staff to coordinate the details of how the dog will be cared for.

Other concerns

Our reader also asked questions about whether service dogs are a distraction in school and whether they can pose a danger to other children. After talking to Ms. Fierer, it’s my opinion that these are not major concerns. As for being a distraction, Ms. Fierer said that is usually not the case. Service dogs are generally introduced into the school gradually, starting with maybe a half-hour per day and building from there. The children get accustomed to the dog and the novelty soon wears off. Also, the other children need to be educated that this is a service dog and not a pet to be played with. Children can easily learn this lesson. As for being a danger to other children, Ms. Fierer said she has never heard of a dangerous incident happening at school such as a dog biting a child. These dogs are amazingly well-trained and the trainers allow zero tolerance for aggressive behavior. If a dog shows any aggression, that dog does not make the cut for being a service dog. Therefore, I don’t believe this concern is a valid reason for denying a child a service dog.

Training a service dog

In terms of the actual training given to the dogs, Ms. Fierer said that when a puppy is eight weeks old, it starts living with a dedicated puppy handler who is responsible for teaching the dog basic manners.  This time includes classes at Susquehanna twice per month.  This arrangement goes on till the dog is 18 months old, at which time the dog receives about six months of intense training.  About 50-60 percent of training is the same for all service dogs. The rest is devoted to the unique needs of each disability. Before a dog is placed, Susquehanna spends about 2 and ½ weeks training the family that is receiving the dog. Even after placement, Susquehanna continues to do follow-up training – at first on a weekly basis and then gradually declining over the next six months. It even does annual re-testing.

I hope this follow-up addresses our readers’ concerns. Ms. Fierer emphasized that service dogs are not the solution for every child. Susquehanna actually does therapy sessions with families before even agreeing to place a dog to ensure that the dog and the family are a good fit. She indicated that it is a big responsibility to own a service dog and it is not a decision that is made lightly by the dog trainers. However, for the right child and the right family, a service dog can be an amazing asset.

Related Nash and Associates Links:

Service Dogs for Kids

 

photo from servicedogtraining.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Much is Your Marriage Worth?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

When you’re injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it’s easy to see why you have a legal claim. You are entitled to recover for the injuries that you suffered, including economic damages (lost wages, medical bills, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). However, if you’re married, there is another category of damages that you may be able to recover – damage to your marriage. It’s called Loss of Consortium and is an important element of damages in the right circumstances. It is a legal recognition that the marital relationship itself – separate and apart from the injury to the individual – is a protected interest that is deserving of compensation if it has been harmed by the negligence of another person.

Loss of consortium has an interesting history. Under Common Law (which roughly translates to “the olden days” in this circumstance) a woman had no right to sue for loss of consortium. It was only the man who had the right. That was because the woman was essentially seen as the man’s property. If she was injured and unable to provide her usual domestic or bedroom duties as a result of someone else’s negligence, the man could recover for the loss of such services. He had basically lost some of the value of his property so he was entitled to compensation. Eventually, the courts (most courts, at least) recognized the unfairness of such a one-sided system and ruled that women could also make such a claim if their husband suffered an injury. However, there are still some states (Virginia, for example) that do not recognize loss of consortium at all, no matter who tries to bring it.

Back to the present day. A loss of consortium claim arises when one spouse suffers a serious injury that impairs the marital relationship. An easy example is if a husband suffers a traumatic brain injury as a result of a doctor’s negligence. In that circumstance, the man would be able to file a claim for his own damages, of course, but he and his wife could also allege loss of consortium because the brain injury impacts the marriage. The couple will now find it more difficult to do the things they use to do together as man and wife – going out together, caring for their children, taking vacations, intimacy, and the day-to-day marital difficulties that arise because the husband now has a brain injury. In Maryland, a jury can award monetary damages for the couples’ loss of companionship, affection, assistance and yes, sexual relations. It is notoriously difficult to put a dollar figure on such injuries, but the law recognizes the right of a husband and wife to recover financially if their marriage has been damaged. How much money to award for such injury is for the jury to decide. Like other damages, it is always the plaintiffs’ burden to prove that the marriage has been injured, which is usually done through the testimony of the husband and wife.

Speaking of intimacy, some pundits say that loss of consortium is just a code-word for damage to the couples’ sex life. This is not entirely true as the marital relationship entails far more than just sex, but these pundits have a point. A loss of consortium claim usually does include an allegation that the couples’ sex life has been impacted. If you are bringing a lawsuit, you have to understand that when you allege loss of consortium, you are opening up the door on the most intimate parts of your life. Defense attorneys will often ask highly personal questions – how often did you have sex before the injury, how often do you have sex now, how exactly does the injury make sex more difficult, have either of you ever strayed from the marriage, etc. Some couples are understandably reluctant to discuss such things. Thankfully, most defense attorneys are just as uncomfortable asking these questions as the plaintiffs are answering them, so the questions tend to be over with relatively quickly. Be aware, though, that if you do file a loss of consortium claim, your sex life may become an issue in open court.

In the District of Columbia, a loss of consortium claim is for similar damages, but with a slight difference. While in Maryland the claim belongs to both the husband and the wife and is brought by them jointly, in the District of Columbia the claim belongs solely to the non-injured spouse. Any money awarded by the jury for loss of consortium goes to the non-injured spouse rather than to the couple jointly.

Lastly, Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages applies to claims for loss of consortium. There is no separate cap for this claim. In other words, there is a single cap that applies to all allegations of injuries, whether it’s an injury to the individual or an injury to the marriage.  The Maryland Legislature does not allow a couple to receive more money for injury to the marriage above and beyond the cap, even if a jury decides that that money should be given. Just another example of how Maryland’s cap punishes plaintiffs.

Have you ever suffered an injury that impacted your marriage? Did you file a loss of consortium claim? What was the result?

Related Nash and Associates Links

Maryland’s alleged healthcare “crisis”

Insurance and Traumatic Brain Injury

Acquired Brain Injuries

 

 

The death of a baby – the economic realities

Monday, June 6th, 2011

I recently wrote a blog about the grief that parents suffer when they lose an unborn child. At the risk of sounding crass, I want to now discuss the economics of lawsuits involving the death of an unborn child. For those contemplating taking legal action for the loss of their child, I hope this provides some useful information for you to consider.

Maryland courts have carved out specific rules for when an unborn child is considered a person capable of recovering damages in the event of death. The primary rule is that if a baby is actually born alive, no matter at what gestational age, that baby is considered a person with legal rights. So, if a 20-week baby is born alive and then dies one minute later, that baby is considered a “person,” and a lawsuit can be filed on behalf of the estate for that baby’s pain and suffering, otherwise known as a Survival Action.

(This leads to an interesting question – does a fetus feel pain? See Related Links below). The parents of the unborn child can also file what is known as a Wrongful Death action for their own economic and non-economic damages resulting from the death of their baby, primarily their grief and emotional loss over the death of their child. Survival actions and Wrongful Death actions are two separate claims, although they are usually pursued in the same lawsuit.

When a baby dies before birth, however, another question has to be asked: was the baby viable or not? Viability means that a baby is able to live outside the womb, even though he or she may require serious medical intervention. The current thinking is that babies are viable at around 22 weeks. The courts have made the rule that if an unborn child dies before the age of viability, that baby is not yet a “person” and has no legal rights. There can be no Survival Action and there can be no Wrongful Death action. If, however, the baby has reached the age of viability, then the baby is considered “a person” with legal rights, even if the baby was never born alive. Confusing? Yes it is.

The Maryland Courts were following the ruling in Roe v. Wade that a mother had a constitutional right to abort a non-viable baby. Therefore, a non-viable baby was not legally considered a person. If the baby was not a person, then no lawsuit could be filed on behalf of the estate of that baby, nor could the parents file a wrongful death action. So in order for a Survival Action or a Wrongful Death action to lie for an unborn baby, that baby has to have reached at least 22 weeks of gestation.

To make things even more confusing, the Maryland courts have carved out an exception to the above rules. Let’s consider the example of a non-viable baby (i.e., less than 22 weeks gestation) who dies before birth as a result of someone else’s negligence that injures the mother.

A common situation occurs when the mother (let’s say she’s 8 weeks pregnant) is injured in a car accident and suffers a miscarriage as a result. Looking at the above rules, one would think that no claim is allowed. However, the courts have said not so fast. In this circumstance, while the mother cannot recover for the grief of losing her child (because the child is non-viable and, therefore, not legally a person), she can recover for similar damages, including:

  • The depression, anguish, and grief caused by the termination of the pregnancy;
  • The manner in which the pregnancy was terminated;
  • Having to carry a baby which was killed by someone else’s tortious conduct; and
  • Having to witness the stillborn child or the fetal tissue that was to be her child.

I realize this itemization of damages sounds awfully close to the damages permitted in a Wrongful Death action – the very damages that are not allowed in the case of a non-viable baby. It is confusing, to say the least. The courts are trying to find a way to compensate a woman who is injured and loses her non-viable baby as a result of someone else’s negligence, while remaining true to prior precedent in this state that there is no Wrongful Death action allowed in the case of a non-viable baby.

Lastly, keep in mind that Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages applies to cases involving the death of an unborn baby. Economic damages (medical bills, lost wages) are usually very small in such cases. There are no lost wages because we’re talking about a baby, and the medical bills are usually small.

The value of these cases is in the emotional pain and suffering of the parents, and the physical pain and suffering of the baby (assuming a viable baby). Under Maryland law, the maximum allowable recovery for such a claim is $868,750 in a medical negligence action (assuming Mom and Dad both file a wrongful death action).

Under the hypothetical of the mother seeking recovery for the loss of a non-viable baby, the maximum allowable recovery is $695,000 if the allegation is medical negligence, and $755,000 if the allegation is non-medical negligence. (The Maryland Legislature has for some strange reason imposed different caps depending on whether the negligence is medical or non-medical, e.g., a car accident).

As for the question of whether an unborn child feels pain, please click on the link below for a blog by Brian Nash on this very issue.

Related Nash and Associates Links

Does a fetus feel pain

Hysteria over malpractice “crisis”

 

 

 

Week in Review: (May 22 – 28, 2011) The Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

From the Editor – Brian Nash

Last week’s posts by our blawgers were packed with information about a variety of topics ranging from the medicine you need to know about concussions, living with cancer, cerebral palsy resources and the potential risks of overdosing your child with medications.

On the legal front, we began a series I’m personally excited about. We call it Legal Boot Camp. It will be a series for those in our practice jurisdictions of Maryland and Washington, D.C. Our teacher’s face is on – lesson plans in place. We hope you learn some things about the laws that can affect your lives in the areas of personal injury – particularly medical malpractice law.  Our first class took place with a piece by Sarah Keogh that examines the law in Maryland on the right to claim loss/diminished earning capacity. If you’re wondering if you can have such a claim even if you weren’t working when you were injured, Sarah has some information for you. Check it out. Turn in your class card and have some fun.

We wrapped up the week with a piece by yours truly on a wonderful community outreach program by our local baseball heroes, the Baltimore Orioles. Aptly named – OriolesREACH, this initiative has a number of wonderful events, charities and missions that are worth knowing about. One in particular, Shannon’s Fund, is a great program to help those in need while dealing with the financial burdens while dealing with cancer. It is run by the University of Maryland Medical Center. Read about our challenge to our brethren before the bar in the Greater Baltimore Area.

Without further ado, here are the blogs we posted this past week …. and a sneak peak of the week ahead.

Concussions: The Message of Brian Roberts’ Injury Should Not Go Unheeded

Posted by Brian Nash

Anyone who follows sports is well aware that finally the old school mentality of “gut it out and get back in there” following blows to the head are coming (not too soon) to an end. Committees have been formed, articles written and the national spotlight of the media have finally focused on this issue. Those recommendations, debates and guidelines are beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, those involved in sports…Read more >

Children’s Medications: Coming Changes and Tips to Avoid Overdose

Posted by Sarah Keogh

My children are both young; the youngest is now a little past her second birthday. In the last few years, we have had both infant and children medication in the house, liquid and tablets, and I have been very careful to make sure to double-check myself if I ever have to medicate either child to make sure that I am reading the correct dosing matrix for the correct concentration and for the correct child. More often than not, I have found that children need medication when their parents are tired. As parents know – children frequently…Read more >

 

Living With Cancer: What to Expect After the Diagnosis

Posted by Jon Stefanuca

About a million and a half people will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. this year. The devastating truth about cancer is that about one-third of these people will die from cancer at some point. For most, the diagnosis is unexpected and completely overwhelming.The cancer does not just affect how one feels, it undermines all sense of security and stability. It changes lifestyles and redefines relationships. So often the emotional trauma is equally shared among family members and loved ones. Read more >

New Blog Series: Legal Boot Camp

Posted by Brian Nash

I’m really pleased to announce a new series we’re starting today. If you’re a reader of our blog, you know that we post numerous times a week on health, safety, medicine and related law topics. That’s what we do in our firm – we represent people who are injured by the negligence of health care providers and those who suffer catastrophic injuries in non-medical settings as well. So, sharing what we believe is some good information about medical, health and safety issues is our mission. We strongly believe that our social networking should be about giving good information, engaging in dialogue about relevant issues – just plain good, old sharing. Read more >

Legal Boot Camp (First Class): The Story of Pam – Maryland’s Law on Loss of Earning Capacity

Posted by Sarah Keogh

A 41-year-old woman, Pam, who was laid off from her job as a swimming instructor and swim coach in December of 2009, has been struggling to find a new position for the last few years. Even though Pam had been working as a swimming instructor full-time for the past 18 years, she felt that she needed to jump into a new career while waiting to find a new position as a swimming instructor and coach. Starting in October of 2010, her father died leaving her a rundown home that he had recently purchased with the intent of renovating it. Pam felt that she could put her physical fitness and knowledge of home aesthetics to work, not to mention the ideas she picked up watching renovations shows while unemployed, by renovating the home her father left… Read more >

Dealing with Cerebral Palsy: A Resource for Parents and Family

Posted by Jason Penn

Today’s society has become increasingly dependent on aggregators. We use a variety of methods to assemble and sort information so that we can easily consume it.  Mint.com and Quicken help with our finances and Google Reader helps to manage our online content. A quick search of the internet suggests that the parents of children withcerebral palsy do not yet have an objective aggregator of information to turn to.  Let’s consider this our attempt to provide parents in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas with a place to turn. Read more >

Charity Begins at Home: OriolesREACH Program Hits a Grand Slam with Us!

Posted by Brian Nash

I recently wrote a post about our local area charities and civic organizations who do so much for so many in our community. With that in mind, as I was happily reading the sports page in the warm glow of the Orioles’ 12th inning victory yesterday (5 in a row – Go O’s), I came across a piece about a new initiative for our military personnel by the Birds. While looking at the details of this worthy program, I noticed (ashamedly for the first time, I admit) a host of community programs being run by the Orioles. The team uses the name OriolesREACH for the community programs they sponsor, promote or fund. Read more >

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead

Here’s a sampling of what’s coming next week on The Eye Opener: Views and Opinions from the Nash Community:

  • As families prepare for the upcoming holidays and summer vacation, Theresa Neumann has some important medical advice about what else needs to be included in your travel plans.
  • Legal Boot Camp: Prepare for our second class – get those pencils, pens, iPads and whatever else you need out and ready – there could be a pop quiz on next week’s primary on law.
  • What rights do babies-before-birth (fetal rights) have in our legal system? Do parents who lose a child just before birth have any rights of recovery? You’ll find out next week.
  • Home births are on the rise. Is that a good or a bad thing? Sarah Keogh weighs in on that issue in the coming edition of The Eye Opener

And….maybe even more to come…you can never tell….

Have a wonderful and safe Memorial Day Weekend. Best to All of You and Your Families and Friends from All of Us at Nash & Associates

Concussions: The Message of Orioles’ Brian Roberts’ Injury Should Not Go Unheeded!

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Brian Roberts - NBC Sports photo (modified)

As I was reading the sports page this morning, after working my way past yesterday’s Preakness news, I was motivated to write this post by the report of Jeff Zrebieck in the Baltimore Sun’s Notebook section. Earlier this week, Brian Roberts of the Orioles was removed from the lineup due to headaches. At the time, I thought back over the games that preceded this news report but couldn’t remember any incident when Roberts could have sustained an injury that led to his headaches. For a guy like Brian Roberts, whose recent career has been marred by injuries, it was hard to believe that as tough and gritty as he is, that something like a sinus problem, allergies or the like had felled this guy. Then within a day or so, following examination and testing, we learned that Brian had sustained a concussion.

Once again, I thought through the games leading up to his line-up departure and still couldn’t remember any play or at-bat that would, in my mind, cause a concussion. There was no high and tight, back-him-off-the-plate pitch, no knee to the head by a middle infielder when he was sliding into second on an attempted steal, not even a take-out at second base while he was turning a double play. As we learned later, he sustained his current injury while sliding into first base headfirst trying to beat out a single. He never struck his head on anyone or anything. So how in the world did Brian Roberts wind-up on the disabled list with a concussion?

Last year’s injury set the stage for a recurrence

While no one knows for sure, the speculation during the 2010 season, which was also marred for Roberts by a back injury, was that Roberts had caused the concussion when, out of sheer frustration from a bad plate appearance, he struck himself in the helmet with his bat on the return to the dugout. We’re not talking a violent collision between a defensive back and an unprotected wide receiver, a car crash or a vicious criminal assault. Nevertheless, Roberts’ head injury lingered on well past the end of the season, which ended for him six games early due to dizziness and headache following this incident.

When he reported to spring training, the Orioles faithful were hoping that the past season’s injuries (back, strained abdominal muscle, concussion), which caused him to miss a total of 103 games in 2010, were a thing of the past. Then on Wednesday, February 23, 2011, the report came out that Brian had left spring training that morning due to a stiff neck. What was this all about? Then came the news last week – a slide felled this mighty warrior.

Concussions: a mild traumatic brain injury

Just what is a concussion? Brainline.org, a great resource for those seeking more information about traumatic brain injuries, gives this description:

In a nutshell, a concussion is a blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Also called amild traumatic brain injury, a concussion can result from a car crash, a sports injury, or from a seemingly innocuous fall.Concussion recovery times can vary greatly.

Most people who sustain a concussion or mild TBI are back to normal by three months or sooner. But others . . . have long-term problems remembering things and concentrating. Accidents can be so minor that neither doctor nor patient makes the connection.

The Days of Yore – “Gut It Out” – are thankfully coming to an end

Anyone who follows sports is well aware that finally the old school mentality of “gut it out and get back in there” following blows to the head are coming (not too soon) to an end. Committees have been formed, articles written and the national spotlight of the media have finally focused on this issue. Those recommendations, debates and guidelines are beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, those involved in sports, particularly at the scholastic levels, should constantly be aware of this ever-expanding information, which is available through multiple resources and media channels.

What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?

While there is apparently no universally accepted definition of concussion despite hundreds of studies and years of research, according to one source, there is some unanimity in what are the worrisome signs and symptoms, which can include:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Decreased coordination or balance
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you or someone in your family has sustained any type of head injury, no matter how minor and they show these signs or symptoms, get to the doctor or an emergency room immediately.

CT Scans, MRI’s and other diagnostic test after head injuries

TBI’s or traumatic brain injuries are reported to be “a major cause of death and disability worldwide, especially in children and young adults.” In cases of obvious severe head trauma, it’s a “no-brainer” that diagnostic testing should be done. But what about cases of mild to moderate head trauma? Who defines what is “minor” and “moderate” when it comes to TBI’s? What testing is necessary; when is it unnecessary?

While these judgments are made by the medical professionals, you need to be your own advocate at times in making this decision-making process. Brian Roberts was tested and submitted to radiographic tests for a host of reasons – probably not the least of which is the fact that he is a very valuable member of a professional sports team. What about the ordinary guy in the street?

Well, the short answer is – the recommendations vary when it comes to mild and moderate head injuries. In fact, the very definition of what constitutes a moderate TBI can also vary depending on whom you read. Nevertheless, certain signs, symptoms and history are not disputed indications for a radiographic study to rule in or rule out a potential brain injury. For example, one need only read the indications for the use of radiographic studies published by MedicineWorld.org or a host of other organizations on this topic.

In a recent case, I personally came across someone whom I believe to be a leader in the field of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), Dr. Andy Jagoda, an emergency medicine specialist in New York. He has done extensive research, writing and lecturing on this topic. I’ll save you the effort, here are the search results for his body of work.

A Lesson – Hopefully – Learned

I started this piece with the story of Brian Roberts. I didn’t simply do this because I am a long-suffering fan of the Orioles (which I am) and an admirer of Brian Roberts (which I also am) but because of the message his story tells us. A self-inflicted bat to the helmet because of a strikeout? A slide into first base with no blow to the head? A concussion none the less – apparently!

Brian Roberts may have a team of medical specialists watching and monitoring his every grimace, complaint and move; you probably won’t have that luxury. If you have a head injury – minor or otherwise – and have any of the known signs, symptoms or risk factors for a traumatic brain injury, be vigilant and pro-active for your own health and well-being.

If you are in an emergency room and the discussion of whether or not you should undergo radiographic testing takes place, get involved – ask questions. If you are discharged from the emergency room, whether you had a CT or an MRI or not, pay very careful attention to the head injury discharge instructions you are given. It is a well known phenomenon that there can be a delay in symptoms and signs of a TBI days if not weeks later. If you are suffering any ill-effects during this post-discharge period, get to a healthcare provider immediately.

The stories of how lives are altered forever more as a result of TBI are legion. Don’t become yet another statistic.

Your time to share

Have you ever had a TBI? Know someone who has? What happened in that situation? Was a test done? Do you think CT scans are overused, particularly in children? Are they underused? How did your “experience” turn out? Any advice for others? Share, Good People, share!

Good luck, Brian – and speed recovery!

 

 

 

Why early settlement is a win-win for all

Friday, May 20th, 2011

There is an old adage in the law that cases settle on the courthouse steps. There is a reason for that. When the parties are actually walking into court to try their case, they seem to suddenly recognize that there are significant risks to going to trial, and that there is serious money at stake. When you go to trial, only one side can win. The other side goes home a loser. Faced with such a stark outcome, both sides tend to become more reasonable in their assessment of their case and more willing to talk settlement. After all, despite all the years of experience that trial attorneys amass, no one can ever predict what a jury is going to do in any specific case. As one mediator I know likes to tell the litigants, going to court is like going to Vegas:  you roll the dice and you take your chances. So often times, the closer a case gets to the trial date the more motivated the two sides are to talk settlement. But is there a better way?

A couple of recent cases made me start to think about settlements and how they come about. (If you missed it, Brian Nash wrote an excellent piece on the frustrations of mediation and trying to settle cases). I’ve recently handled two cases that illustrate how settlements work and how two cases can go down dramatically different routes to ultimately get to the same place. Both of these cases are subject to confidentiality agreements so I can’t divulge the names of the parties or the settlement amounts, but they were both seven-figure cases with significant injury.

In the first case, the patient alleged that her doctor failed to timely diagnose stomach cancer over a period of several years. By the time the patient was properly evaluated by another physician, the cancer had progressed to the point that there was virtually no chance of a cure, and the young woman was likely going to die in the next few years. In the second case, the patient alleged that he suffered serious neurological complications (motor and nerve dysfunction in his arms and legs) as a result of post-operative complications that were not treated quickly enough. In both cases, a lawsuit was filed in court.  At that point, the two cases diverged.

Case Example #1 – Getting it done early

In the cancer case, before any depositions had taken place, the defense attorney called and asked if we might be able to talk about resolving the case. That’s always a great call to get as a plaintiff’s lawyer because it means there is a good chance that you will be able to get a nice result for your client, which is always the ultimate goal. Within a matter of weeks, we had reached an agreeable number and the case was over.

Case Example #2 – Grinding it out to the courthouse steps

In the second case, there was no early talk of resolution. The case proceeded through the normal course of litigation, which in the District of Columbia usually means about eighteen months of discovery, depositions, expert meetings, etc. Twenty-five experts were hired to review records and testify. Twenty-seven depositions ended up being taken. The case got all the way up to the Thursday before trial was scheduled to start on the following Monday morning. At that point, the parties finally reached agreement on a number and the case was settled.

Why the difference in approach?

So we have two cases, both with significant injury and both with questionable care. One case settled right away, and one dragged on for almost two years before settling. Is there a simple reason why? Not that I’ve been able to figure out. After years of doing this, I, like every other attorney, get a gut feeling as to what cases are worth, which ones will likely settle, which ones will go to trial. But it’s still a gut feeling; there’s no science involved.

It’s usually a combination of factors – the quality of the medical care, the severity of the injury, the likeability of the plaintiff and the defendant (more important than most people realize), the specific jurisdiction you’re in, etc. On top of these factors you have a myriad of psychological reactions that pop-up in lawsuits and there is no predicting those. Sometimes people get entrenched in fighting for no other reason than to fight. Some people get a number in their head for what a case is worth and don’t want to budge. So even though I can’t sit here and explain why certain cases settle early and some settle late, I do want to talk about the value of early settlements to all sides.

Common Sense and good economics say “get it done early”

It is easy to see why early resolution of cases benefits everyone, and it comes down to the costs of litigation. In today’s world, it can easily cost $75,000 to $100,000 (if not more in many instances) just in expenses to take a case to trial; it can easily be much higher in complex cases. (I know of one attorney who spent $300,000 on a case that he took to trial; he lost the case). These expenses consist primarily of expert fees paid to doctors to review records and testify. Expert doctors routinely charge at least $400 per hour and oftentimes more for their time. For trial testimony, doctors usually charge around $5,000 per day (some substantially more). If it runs into two days, that’s $10,000 just for one witness. It’s not unusual to spend tens of thousands of dollars for expert fees alone.

On top of that there is the cost of court reporters for each deposition, copying charges, obtaining medical records, long-distance calls, travel expenses, etc. Going through litigation is an expensive undertaking, and the longer the case goes on the more expensive it is. On the plaintiff side, all of those expenses are usually advanced by the attorney (in jurisdictions where this is permitted), but they all get paid back by the client at the end of the case (assuming the plaintiff wins; if there is no recovery, the plaintiff’s attorney “eats” those costs). So every dollar spent on litigation comes straight out of the client’s portion of the recovery.

On the defense side, insurers and self-insured institutions (like hospitals) have those same expenses, but on top of that, they also have to pay legal fees to their attorneys. Defense attorneys charge by the hour for everything they do on a file from reviewing records to meeting with clients to talking to experts to taking depositions. The complexity of medical negligence cases means long hours of work on each file, generating substantial legal fees. Those fees get paid to the defense lawyer whether the case is won, lost or settled at the last minute. The longer the litigation lasts, the higher the legal fees.

Of course it always costs money to investigate a case. There is no avoiding that.  Records need to be obtained and reviewed. Experts need to be retained for an initial opinion. But instead of spending $75,000 or $100,000 (or more) on a case, it may cost only several thousand dollars to work-up a case to get it ready to file – that is, to be in a position where early resolution can be discussed with the defendant. If a case can be settled early on, all of those thousands of dollars that would have gone to litigation costs go straight to the client. That is a huge benefit to the client.

The defendant benefits too. No hospital or insurance company wants to spend money needlessly. Early resolution means that the defendant doesn’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and tens of thousands more in legal fees. The only way it makes sense to spend that money is if, at the end of the day, the “defendant” (read insurer/hospital) believes it can either win the case or settle it for less down the road. But here’s the thing – a case can usually settle early on for less than the case would be worth had the case gotten closer to trial. This isn’t always true, of course, but as a general rule, a good case does not become less valuable over time.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys don’t undersell their cases to get an early settlement, but in practical terms, attorneys and clients are usually willing to consider some discount because they know that an early settlement is to their mutual benefit.The plaintiff gets a guaranteed financial payment now rather than waiting eighteen months for a trial and then a possible appeal that may drag the case out another two years. In that circumstance, the plaintiff is usually willing to take a little less money now because it is certain. It’s the age-old question: would you rather have X amount of money now, or wait eighteen months for the chance of getting more? For most plaintiffs, it’s an easy answer. Also the defense can pay less on a case than it would have ended up paying anyway and save thousands in expenses and legal fees by doing so. It’s a win-win for all parties.

Just do the math!

The big secret with early settlements (and which can sometimes be difficult to explain to a client) is that even though an early settlement might be for less than what a jury might award, the client can actually put more money in his or her pocket with a lower settlement amount. Again, we’re back to the issue of litigation costs. If a firm spends $10,000 to investigate a case and get it ready to file rather than $100,000 to take a case to trial, that is an extra $90,000 that goes straight to the client. Also, some law firms will have a contingent fee agreement in which the fee is higher (usually from 1/3 to 40%) when the case goes to trial, which serves to compensate for the additional time,  risk and expense of going to trial. When you consider the higher legal fees and the increased costs of litigation that have to be paid back, it can actually take a substantially larger jury verdict to put the same amount of money in the client’s pocket as he or she would get with a smaller early resolution.

Some cases may just need to be tried

I don’t mean to imply that every case that gets filed should be settled early. Far from it. Some lawyers undoubtedly file cases that are simply without merit and should be defended vigorously. Other cases – while they may be defensible – fall into a middle category where the care may not be the best but the plaintiff has problems with his/her case too. Some cases can be difficult to evaluate without further investigation and discovery to gauge the strength of the case. In those cases, it is entirely appropriate to proceed with litigation – even on a somewhat limited scale through discovery. No doubt there are instances where insurance companies do need to protect the interest of their doctors, and sometimes that means vigorously defending a case all the way through trial.

Some cases, however, – the cases where the medical care is truly egregious and the damages are clear – need to be looked at early on to see if the two sides can be reasonable and find some middle ground. If a case is going to ultimately settle (and believe me, experienced attorneys and claims adjusters can usually identify those cases early on), it makes sense to talk sooner rather than later. It requires compromise on everyone’s part, but the value to both sides is so great that it makes sense to talk early and get it done.

What has been your experience?

I’d be curious to know the experience of our readers. Has anyone been involved in a lawsuit that settled? Did it resolve early on or did it stretch out for years? Do you think the time involved had any impact on the amount of the settlement? Any tips or tricks you might suggest? Let’s hear from you – maybe we can all learn how to get these cases resolved earlier and stop wasting time, resources and money.

You may also want to read these related posts:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

A View from the Shady Side – The Defense Perspective

Every bad outcome does NOT a malpractice case make! Some practical advice

 

Acquired Brain Injuries: Causes and Impact

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

On the heels of Jason Penn’s blog regarding calling “911″ for signs of a possible stroke, I decided to introduce a variety of acquired brain injuries for further discussion in future blogs since damage to the brain results in some of the most catastrophic injuries possibly sustained by the human body with significant “collateral damage” for all of the friends and family involved in the individual’s life.

What is an “acquired brain injury”?

Wikipedia defines acquired brain injury as damage to the brain occurring after birth but not including neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, that occur later in life.  These injuries can further be divided into traumatic and non-traumatic acquired brain injuries.

Traumatic brain injuries are a result of some kind of trauma to the cranium/brain, but the actual causes can vary significantly. Trauma, in general, is the leading cause of death in the young-adult age group. An obvious example of a significant head trauma is the gunshot wound to the head sustained by Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords earlier this year. Other examples are assaults with blows to the head, falls with blows to the head, car or bicycle accidents with head injuries, sports-related head injuries/concussion, childhood playground head injuries, and even damage sustained during brain surgery. The degree of damage and permanent sequellae obviously varies as well, ranging from fully recoverable within a few days to catastrophic permanent deficits and even death. Interestingly, the amount of external damage (or lack thereof) does not necessarily reflect the damage inside the cranial vault.

Non-traumatic acquired brain injuries, on the other hand, have a wide range of etiologies not related to head trauma that have just as wide of a range of catastrophic effects and recovery times. One of these causes is a stroke, as described by Jason Penn; however, strokes can be either ischemic (blockage of blood flow to the brain by, for example, a blood clot) or hemorrhagic (when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures), and each is treated very differently!  Other possible causes are infections, brain tumors, failure of other body organs (liver, kidney), loss of oxygen delivery to the brain (heart attack, blood clot in lungs), other chemical or drug ingestions with toxic effects, aneurysm rupture, and build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood stream from other lung pathology, including smoking!

A Virtual Tour of the Brain

Described as the most complex organ in the human body, the brain has been the subject of numerous educational videos, which attempt to give the layman a better understanding of the parts and functions of the human brain. YouTube has numerous “brain anatomy” videos for you to peruse. Here’s one from the University of Bristol that does a good job of providing the basics of this incredible organ.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UukcdU258A

Effects of Brain Damage

The brain is the body’s 3-pound computer that controls every conscious and unconscious function of the body. Different areas of the brain control different cognitive, behavioral and emotional functions as well as the everyday metabolic functions of the body. Damage to specific areas of the brain result in specific functional losses, which is why someone with a “stroke” might experience numbness and weakness of one side of the body or no weakness but loss of balance or loss of vision. Larger injuries result in more brain tissue damage and more functional deficits. The object of “the game” is to rapidly diagnose the problem and rapidly treat the problem in order to minimize the amount of brain damage, and thus, minimize the functional deficits. Many acquired brain injuries progressively worsen due to different “normal” pathophysiologic mechanisms. It is imperative to intervene sooner whenever possible.

A Personal Story

My uncle had a stroke 1 month ago while working in the yard.  ”911″ was called immediately, and he was transported to the closest hospital.  He apparently had an undiagnosed abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) that caused a large blood clot to form in the heart. This clot ultimately got pumped out into the carotid artery and lodged itself at the beginning of the middle cerebral artery on right side of his brain.  He was initially unconscious, but he later “came to”, only to deteriorate into unconsciousness again as the brain swelled from the blocked artery and infarcted brain tissue. He was transferred to another hospital that was capable of performing brain surgery, and he had back-to-back brain surgeries on 4/10 and 4/11 to try to minimize the damage. They actually had to remove a large part of his skull to allow for the brain swelling to occur without the brain’s tissue being compressed against the skull so as to prevent herniation of the brain.

He was in a coma for several days, but he is slowly making some recovery. In the meantime, he needed a tracheostomy and feeding tube in his stomach, both of which he still has. His entire left side remains completely paralyzed. It is difficult for him to stay awake, although he does seem to know who is around at any given time. My aunt, God bless her, has spent the last month at the hospital, 8 hours or more every day, and she is just exhausted. It is unclear when he will be going home or even if he will be going home. We are hoping and praying for the best recovery possible, but the future remains uncertain.

Collateral Damage

In addition to the person affected by acquired brain injury being functionally limited, whether temporarily or permanently, there is often collateral damage to himself/herself as well as to friends and family members. Emotional issues often arise, whether through mood disorders like depression and anxiety, or with actual personality changes. Those affected can become more belligerent or difficult, angry, withdrawn, and a host of other characteristics, making it very difficult on the person caring for the affected individual. The physical demands alone can overwhelm the care-provider (like bathing, toileting, feeding, transporting to appointments, etc.) and lead to care-provider stress and mood disorders.  Financially, these injuries are often devastating. Marriages end; relationships among family members suffer; sometimes, physical abuse and neglect can even occur when frustrations become overwhelming.

There are support groups available many of which can be accessed through local hospitals, associations or your health department.

Locally, you may want to visit the Brain Injury Association of Maryland and the Brain Injury Association of Washington, D.C.

Stay posted for more details on some of these causes of acquired brain injury specifically. In the meantime, do you have a story to tell?

 

Image from neuroskills.com

Robot Anesthesiologists?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

robotic intubationFor anyone contemplating serious surgery, it can be a scary endeavor. From going through it myself and talking to others, I know that the main fear we have going into it is that the surgeon will make a mistake during the surgery, or that we will develop serious complications such as a hematoma, infection, etc. that leads to death or paralysis. While these are very real risks of many forms of surgery, there is another aspect of surgical procedures that gets less attention from patients – the anesthesiologist. While it may get little notice from patients, anesthesiology is a highly complex field of medicine in which doctors (and certified nurse anesthetists) train for years to be able to do it well. This post will focus on just one aspect of anesthesiology known as intubation, and a new development in robotics that may improve the procedure.

What is intubation?

At its most basic, intubation is the process by which the anesthesiologist places a thin plastic tube into the patient’s windpipe to maintain an airway or to facilitate mechanical ventilation. While this is done in a variety of serious medical situations, it is almost always done during major surgery when the patient is under general anesthesia. During such surgery, the patient is rendered unconscious and is unable to breathe on his or her own. Therefore, the anesthesiologist has to essentially breathe for the patient during the surgery, either using a ventilator or sometimes compressing a bag that replaces natural breathing. The process of intubation allows this artificial breathing to take place. Because intubation itself is a painful procedure (remember – a tube is being inserted far down your throat), the patient is usually given paralytic drugs (drugs to induce paralysis) before intubation. This is a key point we’ll come back to later.

Risks of Intubation

While it may sound as simple as sliding a tube down the throat, intubation carries its own risks separate and apart from the risks of anesthesia itself (risks from anesthesia can include death, paralysis, brain damage and a whole host of other less serious injuries). With intubation, there are minor risks such as chipped teeth, lacerations in the gums and sore throat. However, there are many more serious risks as well, including perforation of the trachea, mistakenly placing the tube down the esophagus (a more common occurrence than you might think), aspiration of stomach contents, vocal cord injury, decreased oxygen and elevated carbon dioxide, and nerve injury. Intubation is a serious procedure that requires a high degree of skill and training to do it well and safely.

What if the tube does not get placed properly?

Inability to secure the airway is a major problem in intubation. To understand why, you have to remember that before the tube is placed, the anesthesiologist paralyzes you with drugs. Therefore, before the tube is placed, you stop breathing on your own. It is then critical that the tube be placed quickly and accurately to ensure that you don’t suffer from a lack of oxygen (or ventilation – the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide). So what happens when the anesthesiologist has trouble getting the tube in? It just so happens that I have some personal familiarity with that scenario.

A few years ago I had back surgery. The surgery itself was not complex as far as spine surgeries go (it always amazes me how surgeons are able to describe cutting open your back and operating on your spine as casually as they might describe changing a light bulb). It essentially consisted of trimming off a small piece of disc that was pressing on my spinal cord and causing pain to radiate down into my leg and foot.  I was in and out of the hospital the same day, but of course I was under general anesthesia so I had to spend a couple of hours in the Post Anesthesia Recovery Room (PACU) to make sure that I was not suffering from any ill effects of the anesthesia. While waking up, and still groggy, the anesthesiologist walked up to me and said, “I just want to let you know – you were really hard to intubate. If you ever have surgery again, be sure to tell your doctor that you’re really hard to intubate.”

I asked the doctor what he meant by that. He told me that because of the anatomy of my mouth and throat, he had had a really difficult time getting the tube into my airway. Keep in mind, the tube was placed down my throat after I was given drugs to paralyze me. Even in my post-anesthesia addled state, I knew enough to ask the obvious question – what would have happened if he couldn’t have gotten the tube down in time? He was casual in his response. “Oh, we would have given you drugs to wake you back up.” How comforting. My next thought was, “Maybe you could have checked my anatomy out before you gave me paralyzing drugs.” I didn’t ask that because I am sure they did check me pre-operatively.  That is standard procedure before giving anesthesia to make sure that the anesthesiologist knows the patient’s anatomy and can anticipate problems. Apparently, my anatomy was a little more vexing than he had bargained for. However, he was finally able to get the tube in and the surgery went well.

The use of robotics

Because of the ever-present risk of serious complications, researchers are always working on improving intubation to minimize risk. It has always been a hands-on procedure that depended on the skill of the individual performing it. Now we may be moving into a whole new world of intubation thanks to advances in robotics.

Medical News Today is reporting that Dr. Thomas Hemmerling of McGill University and his team have developed a robotic system for intubation that can be operated via remote control. According to Dr. Hemmerling:

The [device] allows us to operate a robotically mounted video-laryngoscope using a joystick from a remote workstation. This robotic system enables the anesthesiologist to insert an endotracheal tube safely into the patient’s trachea with precision.

The system is still in development. It has been widely tested with mannequins that mimic human anatomy, and clinical testing on patients has now begun. Dr. Hemmerling hopes that the new device will allow anesthesiologists to intubate patients using less force and higher precision, which should help to improve patient safety. Even with the use of robotics, I would think that intubation, including pre-operative assessment of individual anatomy, is going to require close hands-on involvement in order to ensure that it is done safely and properly, but it is always exciting to see what was once science fiction being used in real-life surgeries.

What you can do

While robotic anesthesiology is still down the road for most of us, there are still things you can do to minimize your risk of injury. Before agreeing to surgery, most of us do a good job of vetting our surgeon – how experienced he or she is, how many similar procedures he or she has performed. How many times have you heard a friend describe his or her surgeon as “the best?” Yet virtually no one who has been a patient – at least in my experience – makes any inquiry into the experience level of the anesthesiologist, even though a mistake by this person can render you paralyzed or brain-dead (or even dead) in a matter of minutes.

If you are planning on undergoing serious surgery, I would encourage you to discuss the anesthesia care with your surgeon. Find out ahead of time who your anesthesiologist is going to be (if that’s possible), and discuss your situation with that person. No doubt you will be evaluated by the anesthesiology team before your surgery, but it may well be the same day as your surgery, and it will feel like just another routine matter like signing a few forms. Keep in mind, however, that anesthesiology is just as important as the surgery itself. Stay informed and ask questions. Treat your pre-operative session with the anesthesiologist as if your life and health were depending on it – it just may!

And as for robotics, I’m curious what your comfort level would be if your doctor suggested using a robot to intubate you? Would you be willing to try the procedure, or would you prefer the traditional hands-on, human approach?

Image from “Today’s Medical Developments”

Week in Review: Miss our posts this past week? Catch-up now!

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

From Eye Opener’s Editor, Brian Nash: Another week gone by – where does the time go? Our bloggers this past week, Theresa Neumann, Jon Stefanuca, Jason Penn, Mike Sanders and Sarah Keogh, were – in addition to practicing law – busy on the keyboard blogging away. In case you missed any posts during the week of April 10th through the 15th, here’s your opportunity to catch-up.

The “Medical Home” – find out what it is and why you should have one!

This past week, Sarah wrote two blogs on a concept that frankly I had not heard of before – the Medical Home. Her follow-up piece on how parents in particular are using emergency departments and clinics was posted yesterday, Friday, April 15th.

In her first piece, Sarah discussed a key issue about continuity of medical care for all of us but particularly our children. While there’s no doubt that there are times when taking your child to an emergency room is the only way to go in a true emergency, is it really the right place for a child to receive primary care? You see a physician or a medical specialist such as a physician’s assistant on a one-time basis. What do they really know about your child’s complete medical history? Do they really address key issues of general health care that is essential to your child’s overall health?

Her second post addresses specifically the topic of how many in this country are using facilities such as in-store clinics and emergency rooms for minor, non-emergency care. While there is no doubt that ED’s and clinics serve a vital role in the providing of healthcare in the United States, are they being used the right way? Are clinics often the only place where many in our country can obtain care for their children? Read Sarah’s posts on What is a medical home? Do your children have one? and her follow-up piece Clinics and Emergency Rooms: Helpful or Barriers to Good Pediatric Care.

A Disturbing Report on Some Area Hospitals and their Complication Rates

Earlier in the week, the new member of our legal team, Jason Penn, wrote about a recent report from the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission regarding a continuing failure of several local Maryland and DC hospitals to lessen the number of patients who suffer from complications while in these institutions. P.G. Hospital Center won the dubious distinction of being first in class. Jason reports that this institution, which services many of the area’s population, was fined by the state of Maryland for the number of “complications that are unlikely to be a consequence of the natural progression of an underlying disease.” The “list” includes specified complications such as “bed sores, infections, accidental punctures or cuts during medical procedures, strokes, falls, delivery with placental complications, obstetrical hemorrhage without transfusion, septicemia, collapsed lungs and kidney failure.” For information as to how the local jurisdictions deal with these hospitals in the pocketbook and who made the list, read Jason’s blog post entitled Report Card on Failing Hospitals: Prince George’s Hospital Center Tops “Complications” List.

Learn More about Medicine and Your Health

Theresa Neumann, an in-house medical specialist in our firm, posted Spinal Stroke: An atypical cause of back pain this past week. It’s one thing to have lawyers who live and breath medicine and the law write about medical conditions; it’s quite another to have real medical specialists like Theresa educate all of us on medical matters that affect the lives of so many. Theresa brings to the public’s awareness the signs, symptoms, risks and potential treatment alternatives to a catastrophically disabling condition that many just don’t know about – until it’s too late for them.

We’ve all – unfortunately – heard about or know someone who has suffered a stroke in their brain. Well, as Theresa reports, there’s an equally devastating form of stroke that can hit our spinal cord, which can render the victim paralyzed, without control of bowel or bladder, incapable of feeling sensation and a host of other life-altering consequences. We’re always appreciative of the wonderful, educational pieces Theresa brings to our blog. This piece is no exception.

The War against Super Bugs – MRSA and CRKP – are we losing the fight?

There was a time many months ago where we all became aware of the super bug infection known as MRSA. It was in the news over and over again. Have you heard much about it lately? Silence by news media might make one think that our medical institutions have won the war and the threat of this deadly infection is over. As Mike Sanders tells us – not so quick! In his blog of this past week, Deadly Super Bugs on the rise, Mike tells us who’s winning the MRSA war to and about a newcomer in the Super Bug family – CRKP.

The news is simply not good! See what seems to be working against MRSA and don’t miss the update at the end of Mike’s post about a new prevention method using honey.

Law and Medicine

Well we are lawyers – so why not a piece about our specialty area – representing patients and families of patients against healthcare providers? This past week, Jon Stefanuca wrote what we consider to be a very important piece entitled Should you sue a healthcare provider? Some guidelines to help you decide.

Some may just be surprised about the advice Jon gives in this posting. It is not a call to arms against the medical profession or even a call to our law firm so you can sue the b*****ds! Jon offers some very important advice to those who have been through an experience with a healthcare provider and are considering whether or not they have a potential lawsuit for the injuries they have suffered.

We believe this post encapsulates in large part some principles we have been advocating for a long time. Not every bad outcome means malpractice has occurred. However, how would you – as a lay person – be able to make the distinction between what is and what is not a real medical malpractice case? In addition to Jon’s sage advice, this post links to a White Paper we did on Choosing a Lawyer – a Primer. We hope if you have unfortunately found yourself faced with this issue of whether you should sue or not that you will find this blog by Jon informative and helpful in making your decision.

A Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead

As you can see, our bloggers were quite busy last week. Well, this coming week will be no different. The days ahead will be consumed with representing our clients in depositions, investigations, filing pleadings and court appearances….and writing and posting some interesting, important blogs on aneurysms (did you know they can present as back pain?), laughing gas coming back for moms in labor, sleep deprivation for nurses (and how well that plays out in your healthcare) and some other good stuff our writers are busy working on this weekend and during the week ahead.

Stay tuned – stay informed! Read the Eye Opener and tell your friends about us too! …and don’t forget to join our social networking communities on Facebook and Twitter.