Archive for the ‘Hospital Liability’ Category

Week in Review: (July 2 – July 9, 2011) Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Eye Opener’s Week in Review

From the guest editor:         Good morning! I was hoping that you would take a break from making your “to do” list to stop by and check in with us. As usual, we have been busy blogging. And practicing law. And getting ready for trial. And in trial! Needless to say, we have been pushing it to the limits. In truth, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Before we get back to trial preparation, lets take a step back and look at the past week.

–Jason Penn, guest editor

Litigating for the Sake of Litigating: A Temptation to Be Resisted

By Jon Stefanuca

What do you do when your opposing counsel forgets that the practice of law is a profession and not a blood sport? What do you do when the phase “zealous representation” gets confused with “obnoxious obstructionist behavior?” When faced with similar frustrations, Jon Stefanuca broke out his keyboard and explained what we litigators deal with on a day to day basis. Being a lawyer is a very rewarding profession, but like any other, it has its share of frustrations. Don’t take my word for it, read more

Can Copper Surfaces and Duct Tape Reduce Hospital Infections and Deaths?

By Sara Keogh

Germs are in your kitchen.  They are in your bathroom and your bedroom.  They are on your fingertips and even on your tongue.  And everyone knows that there are going to be germs in hospitals. Even the best hospitals have to work to keep the patients, rooms and visitors clean and safe.  Sara Keogh reported on news that may make keeping hospitals and other health care environments less germy in the future. Two simple solutions, copper and duct tape, might have a major impact on infection control.  Read more

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead:

The Eye Opener and its writers are excited about the week ahead too!  Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for you:

  • Service dogs for children:  more than just a pet
  • Legal Boot Camp is back in session and Part IV of our Cerebral Palsy tutorial.
  • And more!

Images courtesy of:

www.lifehack.org

www.mountainpulse.blogspot.org

 

Can Copper Surfaces and Duct Tape Reduce Hospital Infections and Deaths?

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Image from medgadget.com

How many times have you heard about someone entering the hospital healthy, or relatively so, and developing a dangerous infection while hospitalized? What about the number of times that you may have visited your own doctor’s office or your child’s pediatrician’s office and wondered whether the cold you got a few days later was coincidence or the result of having been in the waiting and exam rooms following other sick patients? Have you ever considered what cleaning procedures are done in hospital rooms when one patient is discharged before another takes their place?

In the past, Brian Nash and the other legal bloggers here at Eye Opener have written posts and made mention of the importance of hospital cleanliness and sterility, see the related posts below. We have been involved in cases involving the devastating results of infections. However, everyone knows that there are going to be germs in hospitals. Even the best hospitals have to work to keep the patients, rooms and visitors clean and safe.

Well, there is news that may make keeping hospitals and other health care environments less germy in the future. Two recent articles have focused on seemingly simple solutions, copper and duct tape, that may have major impacts on infection control.

Copper Surfaces Dramatically Reduce Infections by Killing Bacteria

A Reuters’ article reports that a recent study “presented at the World Health Organization’s 1st International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control (ICPIC) in Geneva, Switzerland” shows that “replacing the most heavily contaminated touch surfaces in ICUs with antimicrobial copper will control bacteria growth and cut down on infection rates.” According to the Reuters’ article:

[a]ntimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units (ICU) kill 97 percent of bacteria that can cause hospital-acquired infections, according to preliminary results of a multisite clinical trial in the United States. The results also showed a 40 percent reduction in the risk of acquiring an infection.

This news could have a profound impact on health-care costs, disease spread, and most importantly lives lost. If hospitals are able to replace some of their current surfaces with copper surfaces, at least in the parts of the hospital that are most frequently the source of infections, there could be a dramatic improvement in hospital-acquired infections.

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, strokes and cancer.

According to estimates provided by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in every 20 hospitalized U.S. patients acquires an HAI, resulting in 100,000 lives lost each year.

From Reuters

Perhaps even more infections could be prevented if these changes could be made outside of just ICUs. For instance, perhaps copper surfaces could replace highly touched surfaces on sink handles, the doors to hospital rooms, hospital bed rails, or in out-patient surgery centers and long-term care facilities that are not housed within hospitals.

Duct Tape Warnings Keep Others Far Enough Away from Infected Patients

Image from ducttapesales.com

An article from Medicalnewstoday reports that some hospitals are using plain duct tape – just colored red – to achieve a reduction in infection rates from highly infectious patients without having to deal with the hassle and expense of all visitors or hospital personnel who enter the room having to rescrub and use new gowns every time they enter the room of an infected patient. The study looked at highly infectious diseases like C. diff that require isolation of patients and very careful hand washing to avoid spreading the infection. So how does duct tape help?

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) commissioned a study to corner off a three foot perimeter around the bed of patients in isolation. Medical personnel could enter the room unprotected if they stayed outside the perimeter. Direct patient contact or presence inside the perimeter meant a redo of the cleansing process. The concept, called “Red Box” employs red duct tape, a color used as it provides a strong visual reminder to those who enter the room to be aware.

The study found that 33% of all who entered the rooms could do so without the addition of gowns and gloves, saving the environment, hospital and patient costs, and time without compromising the patient or the medical personnel.

From Medicalnewstoday

How Else Can We Reduce Infections?

What ideas do you have for the use of copper surfaces? Do you think that copper surfaces or duct tape could make a dramatic difference in the safety of hospital admission? What about the cost? Do you think that hospitals would pay the upfront costs of replacing surfaces with copper to be able to dramatically cut infection rates? What about other low cost solutions like duct-tape around the perimeter of the bed? Can you think of other low-cost solutions that could minimize infections and maximize safety?

Related Posts:

New federal study finds ‘lax infection control’ at same-day surgery centers

FDA warning to healthcare professionals: use sterile prep pads!

July 1 – New Residents, New Rules……Again!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Last year, I wrote a blog on “The July Effect”, a long-observed phenomenon of increased hospital deaths during the month of July that was substantiated by medical data and statistics just last year. These data seemed to specifically relate these deaths to the influx of new medical school graduates into teaching hospitals as first-year residents of those institutions. The conclusions of the study seemed well-substantiated. I further elaborated on some of the potential causes of errors being made that could result in harm to patients; what I didn’t elaborate upon was the rigorous and demanding schedule that residents assume.

In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) instituted new policies regarding the time limitations of ALL residents, but specifically focused on the first year resident. These limitations were placed on the number of hours that residents could and should work in any given week or rotation in an effort to safeguard the health of the resident but more so to ensure the safety and well-being of patients being treated by these residents.

It is now 2011, and the ACGME is instituting even stricter limitations affecting both first year and mid-level residents; Nixon Peabody does a great job of delineating the changes in the guidelines. Much information has been published in the last year regarding the continued occurrence of medical errors despite protocols and safety mechanisms in place to protect patients (click on related blogs below). It seems that the ACGME is attempting to address some of these errors by addressing the fatigue factor of medical and surgical residents in training. The overall maximum hours per week will not change; it remains at 80 hours.  Yes, twice that of “normal” jobs. One big change is the limit on the maximum continuous duty period for first year residents; this will be decreased from 24 to 16 hours.  It will remain 24 hours for residents after their first year, but recommendations include “strategic napping.” Another change is the additional duty time, previously allotted as 6 extra hours to perform clinic duty, transfer of care, didactic training, etc.; for first year residents, these duties are to be included in the overall 80-hour work week, but after the first year, the residents will be allowed 4 additional hours. A third big change is the minimum time off between duty periods. Previously, it was noted that all residents “should have” 10 hours between shifts; year 1′s are still recommended to have 10  hours off, but they MUST HAVE AT LEAST 8! Intermediate-level residents should also have 10 hours off, but they also must have at least 8 hours off with a mandatory 14 hours off if they just completed a 24-hour shift. Final year residents are recommended to receive 8 hours off, but this is still being reviewed.  One thing that has not changed is the mandatory 1 day off in 7, averaged over 4 weeks.

Many of us watch the medical TV shows, but none of these shows really paint the true picture of medical residency training. As a Physician Assistant student, I trained alongside medical residents and medical students, alike. My training mirrored theirs in the hospital setting, and it happened well before the 2003 ACGME recommendations. There were times during my surgery rotation in a trauma center during which I worked 36 hours straight, followed by 10 hours off, then back to 10- and 12-hour days. The working hours entailed clinic time, managing daily in-patient care, many hours in the operating room, admitting patients during the overnight hours from the emergency room and emergency surgery for trauma victims, hours and hours at a time, in the overnight hours and during the day.  By the end of 36 hours, the exhaustion was indescribable. It is easy to understand how and why mistakes happen. After these crazy shifts, no one ever looked so glamorous as those who are depicted on television shows…..TRUST ME!

July 1, 2011, marks the date when over 100,000 medical residents across the USA from ACGME-accredited training programs start their training in teaching hospitals/institutions across this great nation. We should applaud the ACGME for looking at the data, analyzing studies regarding sleep deprivation, and putting forth these guidelines, not only to aid in patient safety but also to protect the health and well-being of these doctors in training. The pressures of residency are incredible. It is interesting that there was and still is opposition to the duty-hour limitations, citing oppositional rationale such as the residents do not learn enough in 16 hours, and small institutions do not have the support staff to treat all of the patients without the addition of medical resident hours.

So, who is going to fill those gaps created by the resident-hour restrictions placed by the ACGME come July 1st? Each institution will have to look at its own hospital model and decide according to current standards. In 2003, many of these gaps were filled by Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners; I suspect this will again be the case.  These mid-level practitioners are quite capable of providing many of the services necessary in hospital settings; they are a growing and well-respected addition to the healthcare team, and I suspect that their usefulness and potential will be more fully appreciated with the institution of healthcare reform!

For more information and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the ACGME guidelines, please go to the website and click on the links!

And, no matter who is caring for you or your loved one, never be afraid to ask questions about therapies and medications being ordered. Be informed!

Related Posts:

“The July Effect”: Where To Seek Medical Care When The Heat Is On

Medical Malpractice – Serious Medical Errors: Failure of the System or Just Plain Ignorance

Study Finds Regional Hospitals Often Are Better At Preventing Medical Errors Than Academic Centers – Kaiser Health News

Tort Reform or Just Plain Medical Care Reform: the debate continues as thousands are injured annually in US hospitals

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”

 

 

 

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

 

Working Conditions for Nurses Impact Patient Health

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I suspect that anyone who has spent even as much as one day or night in a hospital knows just how critical the nursing staff is in the , health, care and comfort of a patient. A compassionate and personable nurse can put a patient at ease and help them feel better in ways that go beyond just medicine.

Recently, I wrote about how different schedules impact nurses’ lives and how they cope with shifting from day to night schedules. This week, I was drawn to write about nurses again after seeing an article on medicalnewstoday.com that spoke about a study done by the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

According to the article, the study determined that “[b]etter working conditions and better staffing of nurses can significantly improve the care of patients with serious conditions…” The study examined the psychological demands and work schedules of nurses:

…they measured high psychological demands by very fast work, lack of time to complete work, excessive required work, being slowed by delays from other workers, and frequent interruptions.

The data showed “…pneumonia deaths were significantly more likely in hospitals where nurses reported increased psychological demands and more adverse work schedules.” Equally troubling, “…patients were more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis after surgery in hospitals where nurses reported high psychological demands.” These were not the only areas in which the demands placed on nurses negatively impacted patient health.

The researchers calculated the association between job demands on nurses, both psychological and physical, and work schedule, against outcomes of patients with heart attacks, congestive heart failure, stroke, and surgeries that open a bone flap of the skull [craniotomy].

Also, they discovered that deaths from congestive heart failure were also significantly associated with long shifts and with nurses continuing to work while sick.

They found that deaths from heart attacks were associated with nurses frequently working with awkward postures and heavy weekly burdens.

Patients were more likely to experience postoperative hemorrhaging when their nurses were frequently interrupted.

And, where nurses reported a lack of time away from the job, patients were significantly more likely to develop respiratory failure and infections.

While difficult working conditions for nurses have a negative impact on patient health, the article reported that “[p]ositive aspects of the practice environment, such as peer and supervisor support, did not offset, or balance, the adverse impact of these demands.” Only, “[h]ospitals where nurses reported a focus on patient safety were less likely to have such complications or adverse patient outcomes [compared to] hospitals where patient safety was not a stated focus.”

What should be done with this information? To me, the critical lesson here is that work conditions for nurses dramatically influence patient outcomes. Attention must be paid to the conditions for nurses in terms of scheduling, interruptions, time off, and other work conditions. Do hospitals currently examine nurses’ psychological and physicals burdens as part of a comprehensive focus on patient safety? How as a patient do you chose a hospital – do you look only at the doctor’s qualifications or do you look also at other factors such as nursing at the hospital? Is it the duty of a hospital to provide working conditions for nurses that promote optimal patient safety?

 

Week in Review (April 23 – 29, 2011): The Eye Opener Health and Law Blog

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

From the Editor:

Last week was a busy but productive week for our firm’s blawgers – 6 posts – and we actually practiced law a lot! My personal thanks to our writers for taking the time to post some important pieces on health, safety, medicine and law. To our readers, my continued and sincere thanks as well. While it’s great to pull-out our soapbox and write about stuff we do and are passionate about, it’s incredibly rewarding to have you, our readers, take the time to read what we write. To those who left comments, a special thanks. We really enjoy interacting with you!

Now on to the business at hand. What did we write about that you may find interesting? Here you go.

My Pet Peeves About the New Age Mediation Process

Having been inspired by a fellow blawger from New York, Scott Greenfield, who chided legal bloggers (thus the name “blawgers”) for simply rehashing news and not taking a stand on issues, I wrote a piece called Mediation of Lawsuits: The 5 Top Things that Tick Me Off!

Having recently been through a number of mediations that were enough to pull your hair out because of the silliness that people engage in when they claim they are mediating to get cases resolved, I decided that it was time to take a stand and post a personal rant. While perhaps best understood by lawyers, claims adjusters and mediators, this blawg was not intended just for them. I’ve seen what impact foolish approaches and conduct by the participants to mediation can have on my clients, the injured parties. It was time to sound-off; so that’s what I did. I once again invite anyone who has been a party to a lawsuit mediation to do your own personal sound-off and tell us what it was like for you. It’s your turn to tell us just how much you enjoyed the process and what can be done to make it better. Read the horror story told in our Comments section by one of our Canada readers when she went through a domestic mediation process. Share your thoughts and stories as well.

Health Care: Who’s “Voiceless” When It Comes to Being Heard on Capitol Hill

Guess I had too much time on my hands at the beginning of this week (not really!). I couldn’t help but be inspired by a piece Jason Penn had done last week about how families were so adversely affected by the budget cuts that were made when the government shutdown was looming a few weeks ago. As I was going through my Google Reader early this past week, I came across an Op Ed by a doctor, who was complaining or at least suggesting that the president and congress need to hear more what doctors had to say about health care reform. Having read that, Jason’s piece jumped into my mind and the result was my blawg entitled Health Reform: What voice does the patient have in the debate.

The post brings to light the amount of money being spent by the healthcare industry in its lobbying efforts on health care reform. ObamaCare‘s raison d’etre is explored as well since it is ironic, if not sad, how the story behind all this money, lobbying and legislation seems to have been lost in the rhetoric. More affordable, better and available health care for our citizens? Then why were the most needy among us the victims of back room wheeling and dealing when the time came for budget cuts to save the federal government from closing its doors? I ask the question – who’s voice is being heard – but more important – who’s is not?

FDA approves use of “meningitis drug,” Menactra, for younger children

Hopefully you’ll never need to use this information, but if you do, Jason Penn reported on a condition – meningitis – that can affect not only adults and older children, but infants and toddlers as well. Meningitis is generally defined as an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Prior to a recent change in position by the FDA, there wasn’t a vaccine available for children under the age of 2. Now, with the FDA’s recent approval, Menactra can be used to vaccinate children from the age of 9 months to age 2.

In addition to this news release, Jason tells parents about the signs and symptoms they should be aware of to spot this condition.

The classic symptoms of meningitis are a high fever, headache and stiff neck. Detection of these symptoms, particularly headache and stiff neck are certainly difficult to detect in infants and toddlers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants with meningitis may appear slow or inactive, have vomiting, be irritable, or be feeding poorly. Seizures are also a possibility.

To learn more about this important topic, read his piece Meningitis & Your Baby: Three Things to Think About.

Why are children still dying because of venetian blinds?

Sarah Keogh wrote what I believe is a very important piece for parents, grandparents or anyone who has a baby in the house. Years ago we all heard about the horror of parents finding their babies dead from strangulation when their necks became entangled in venetian blinds. Years have passed since those stories made the front page. Well, an update on just how well manufacturers and parents have been doing to avoid such tragedies was recently posted in The New York Times.

In her blawg entitled Window Blinds: Why are Children Still Dying, Sarah tells us the sad truth that these deaths and injuries still continue in our country. Find out what you as a caregiver of a young child need to realize about this product. Maybe you’ve put the cords up high and out-of-reach for your baby. Maybe you’ve taken other steps to avoid such a nightmarish event ever happening in your home and in your life. Unfortunately, many who have done so have still suffered this tragedy. Why? What is being done by manufacturers and the government to prevent these injuries and deaths ? Read Sarah’s piece for the answers and some practical advice you can take to make your home safer for your child.

Hospitals Reporting Methods for “Adverse Events”

We all know by now that if you want to look good to the public, all you have to do is “play with the numbers.” Well, it seems like hospitals have a penchant for doing just that. One of the key “numbers” that advocates of patient health and safety look at is how many “adverse events” take place in any given hospital. An “adverse event,” as you may already know, is – simply put – any harm to a patient as a result of medical care.

In his post this past week, Jason Penn compares some interesting adverse event bookkeeping by hospitals throughout our country. His blawg, The New Enron? Are Hospitals Cooking the Books?, brings to light serious flaws in the way that our medical institutions “count” the number of so-called adverse events taking place within their walls. His research for this piece reveals…

[M]edical errors occur 10 times more than previously thought.Maybe that wasn’t hard hitting enough. Let me try again. How about this: mistakes occur in one out of every three hospital admissions!

Frankly, that strikes me as an astounding and very concerning number. Are the numbers being reported reflecting this? The simple answer is no. Why not? Read Jason’s post and see what reporting systems are in place – or not in place as the case may be. We all remember Enron. Is this the medical version of “making the numbers look good” when they simply are not!

Surgeons and Booze – an Obvious Bad Combination – Who’s Protecting Us?

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that surgeons should not be under the influence when we as patients are “under the knife” What’s not so obvious is just how prevalent this may be in the operating rooms of our country (and throughout the world).

Wondering what the studies have been done by the medical profession to examine this problem? Have any idea what regulations are in place by hospitals to guard against the problem of “hungover surgeons”?

Wonder no more. Jon Stefanuca’s blog this past week, Hungover Surgeons: Watch Out! There’s Nothing Between You and Their Scalpel!,will tell you all you need to know. Jon queries: “Should hospitals regulate for patient safety?” What do you think? Share your comments.

A “Sneak Peak” of the week ahead

Some more good advice is on the way for parents of special needs children. We all know about what a wonderful aide dogs are for the blind. Mike Sanders will share what he’s learned how these canine wonders are being used for kids in need. Suffering from asthma or know someone who is? Jon Stefanuca will be sharing with  you some valuable information on this topic next week. A number of our clients or their now-deceased family members have suffered from this condition. Jon will share a story or two (without revealing protected confidential information) to bring to light just how this medical condition needs to be better recognized and treated by our health care providers before its too late. We all know what a difficult job nursing can be. That being said, Sarah Keogh will be telling us about some very concerning “trends” that are coming to light in this wonderful profession. Stay tuned for this important piece.

We’ll start next week off with a new blawg by our in-house medical specialist, Theresa Neumann. Her post on how important it can be to get a second opinion before you sign-up for a surgery, procedure or test is sitting in the queue just waiting to hit the pages of The Eye Opener – Views and Opinions from the Nash Community.

One Final Note: I wrote in last weekend’s Week In Review that we intended to post a new White Paper by Marian Hogan on a very important topic relating to Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA). It didn’t happen – because of “my Bad.” I fouled-up and sent the wrong draft of Marian’ s piece to our graphic designer. He did a wonderful job – as usual – of getting it ready – it just wasn’t the right version. The problem is fixed, but my mistake will delay the posting of this important White Paper for another week. Public apology: Sorry, Marian! We’ll make it right soon.


Hungover Surgeons: Watch Out! There Is Nothing Between You and Their Scalpel!

Friday, April 29th, 2011

If you need surgery, you might want to ask your physician not to drink the night before the surgery. According to a recent study, surgeons are a lot more error-prone when operating after a night of drinking.  Sixteen medical student (residents) and eight surgeons participated in the study. They were each asked to perform simulated laparoscopic surgeries without any drinking the night before. Then, they were all invited out to dinner and were asked to drink alcohol as they pleased until they felt intoxicated.  The next day, each participant was asked to perform the same simulated surgeries, and the results were quite surprising.

Each medical student had made an average of 19 errors during surgery.  Their sober counterparts made an average of eight errors. On a side note, the fact that so many errors were made even without any drinking is not making me feel warm and fuzzy at all.  It can take one error, not eight or 19, to seriously injure a patient.

The licensed surgeons did not do much better. The ones who drank had about a 50 % spike in the error rate. Wow!  So, if you see your surgeon ordering yet another Brain Hemorrhage ( 1 part peach schnapps, splash of Irish cream, and a dash of Grenadine) the day before your surgery, you might want to buy him a Virgin Bloody Mary.

Just how prevalent is alcohol abuse among surgeons?

What is the practical importance of this information?  If alcohol impairs surgical performance and alcohol abuse is common among physicians, how safe are we as patients? A number of studies seem to support the conclusion that physicians are more likely to abuse alcohol than other professionals. For example, a study published in the Journal of Addiction, examined trends of alcoholism among male doctors in Scotland. Apparently, as many as 50% of the doctors found to have health problems liable to affect their professional competence were also found to have a drinking problem. According to the same study, the higher rate of liver cirrhosis among doctors suggests that doctors are at a higher risk for alcoholism.  Maybe it has something to do with the wide availability of quality scotch.

Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed the rate of substance abuse among U.S. physicians. Apparently, they are not that different from their Scottish counterparts.  According to this study, U.S. physicians are more likely to consume alcohol than other professionals. I guess one good piece of news for us patients is that, although physicians were as likely to have used illicit drugs in the past, illicit drug consumption was found to be less among practicing physicians. That conclusion, however, may depend on your definition of illicit drug use. According to the same study, physicians are more likely to self-medicate with various drugs that can be just as addictive and impairing as some of the illicit drugs. By the way, it appears that physicians prefer opiates and benzodiazepine tranquilizers to “self-medicate.”

With this in mind, consider the number of surgeries that a surgeon performs a week. While the number may differ depending on the specialty, location, and other factors, many perform multiple surgeries. I have personally met orthopedic surgeons, for example, who perform as many as 5-6 surgeries a day.  If you accept the proposition that surgeons like their booze and that the average surgeon operates multiple times a week, how frequently does a surgeon end operate after a night of intoxicating frivolity?

Should hospitals regulate for patient safety?

This seems to be the ultimate inquiry. Additional research may be necessary to correlate these two variables. After all, no one wants to be operated by a surgeon whose lifestyle makes him 50% more likely to make a mistake. Nevertheless, even absent such information, hospitals and surgeons should take to heart the results of the study.  It might even be prudent for hospitals to enact regulations to prohibit surgeons from drinking the night before scheduled surgeries.

I am unaware of a single hospital that has enacted such a regulation.   Are you aware of hospital regulations designed to prohibit surgeons from drinking the night before scheduled surgeries?  Do you know of any proposed legislation in this regard?  More importantly, if you advocate for such regulations, tell our readers how to get involved. Patients Against Drunk Surgeons (PADS) may be a cause worth fighting for.

 

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The New Enron? Are Hospitals Cooking the Books?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Tax season is over. Well, it is over if you filed your return in a timely fashion. Don’t let this blog stop you from stashing away your W-2’s and 1040-G’s for safekeeping. I hope you never need them. But, if you will, indulge me for just a second and leave your calculator out. No, I don’t need you to calculate the ever-increasing cost to fill-up your gas tank. Let’s take a quick look at a few health care statistics. Before you cringe, declare that you ‘hate math!’ and click-back to Facebook, let me share this with you: medical errors occur 10 times more than previously thought. Maybe that wasn’t hard hitting enough. Let me try again. How about this: mistakes occur in one out of every three hospital admissions!

Yes, seriously.

It’s Hard To Measure Without a Yardstick

Despite all of their education and training, medical professionals make mistakes. You know it, I know it, and certainly they know it. I hope that we can also all agree that it is unrealistic to expect for our health care providers to be perfect. What is reasonable, however, is to require an accurate accounting of the mistakes that occur in a health care setting. Believe it or not, there is no uniform method for a hospital to classify, track and otherwise determine what is or is not a medical mistake. A negative outcome at Hospital X in Baltimore might be considered a mistake, and yet if the same negative outcome occurred at Hospital Y in Washington D.C., it would not be considered a mistake. How so?

I don’t want to bog you down with the myriad measures that hospitals use to come up with the numbers but suffice it to say that at any hospital in the United States, its administration could utilize the: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Patient Safety Indicators or the Utah/Missouri Adverse Event Classification technique, or an approach developed by the Harvard Medical Practice Study, or the Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s Global Trigger Tool, or they can do their own analysis of the records and score themselves (self-reporting.)

That was a mouthful. Essentially, a yardstick for measuring the safety of care in hospitals does not exist. Or, at least, a yardstick has not been agreed upon. The two most common methods used, however, are voluntary reporting and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Indicators. And according to a recent study, those two methods are awful. Before you conclude that I am being too harsh, let’s take a look.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The study, conducted by David C. Classen, and published in journal Health Affairs, utilized the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Global Trigger Tool. The Global Trigger Tool uses specific methods for reviewing medical charts. Patient charts are analyzed methodically, analyzing discharge codes, discharge summaries, medications, lab results, operation records, nursing notes, and physician progress notes to determine whether or not a “trigger” exists. A notation of a trigger leads to further investigation into whether or not an adverse event occurred. Here is how the tools stack up:

Self Reporting (Commonly Used Method #1): 4 adverse events detected

Safety Indicators (Commonly Used Method #2): 35 adverse events detected

Global Trigger Tool: 354 adverse events detected

The Global Trigger Tool is overwhelmingly more sensitive and picked-up many, many more adverse events. Overall, the Global Trigger Tool discovered that adverse events occurred in 33.2 percent of hospital admissions or 91 events per 1,000 patient days. That number is staggering.

What kind of “adverse events” are being missed? Medication errors, surgical errors, procedure related errors, infection, pressure ulcers, device failures and patient falls. All very serious and potentially injurious to a patient. The study indicates that the error detection tool being utilized by Hospital ABC in Yourtown, USA is probably woefully inadequate.

Why Accurate Error Detection Is Important

Error detection is essential to error correction. A hospital cannot identify the areas that need improvement if it is unable to identify the areas where it is falling down on the job. Failure to utilize an adequate error detection tool ensures that the same mistakes will continue to happen time and time again. I think the results certainly beg the question: why not adopt a nationwide standard? The Global Trigger Tool or another sensitive measuring matrix strikes me as a reasonable place to begin.

Certainly, there is a financial aspect to this discussion. Extensive chart reviews and lengthy inquiries into negative outcomes are costly and time intensive. Also, what motivation, besides error prevention, does a hospital have to discover its errors? As I wrote about here before, when errors are discovered, hospitals are penalized. If a hospital’s main concern is its bottom line and not patient safety, why not continue to “self-report” or use the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Indicators and leave the adverse events undetected?  Makes sense if you want to avoid the penalties…

It doesn’t say “leave a response” down below for nothing. Feel free to let us know YOUR thoughts.

QUESTION: Have you ever had a negative outcome at a hospital? Where you told that a mistake was made or were you told otherwise?

 

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.