Medical Malpractice News and Views


Welcome to our blog where we discuss current issues in medicine and law. We welcome your comments.

One More Reason You Need A Good Medical Malpractice Lawyer

November 11, 2019

Doctors and hospitals win 85% to 90% of the medical malpractice cases that go to trial in Arizona and that statistic is true pretty much across the United States.  Doctors and hospitals win more than half of the cases even when the patient’s case is a strong one.  One of the many reasons doctors and hospitals do so well at trial is the quality of the lawyers the insurance companies hire to defend them.  If you are going to beat a doctor or hospital at trial, you had better have a darn good lawyer presenting your case for you.

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The companies that insure doctors and hospitals are quite sophisticated.  They are dealing with a specialized area and are knowledgeable about it.  They hire good, experienced adjusters who understand medicine.  They have doctors to serve as resources when they have questions about medical procedures or about whether the doctor in question made a mistake or not.  Often they have doctors on their Board of Directors.

The point is that they know what they are doing.  They hire only the best trial lawyers to represent their insureds.  They usually have a list of trial lawyers and will only allow lawyers on that list to take their cases to trial.  You have to be a seasoned, skillful attorney who has proven your ability in many trials to get on one of those lists.  If, in spite of all the screening they do, they find a lawyer on the list can’t cut it, that lawyer is taken off the list and gets no more cases from the insurance company.

The defense medical malpractice bar is overall the most experienced, most competent trial bar around.  They try a lot of cases and have enviable won/loss records.  Keep this in mind when selecting a lawyer to go up against them on your case.

Over the years, I have written about what makes a good medical malpractice lawyer.  The first and foremost quality of a good medical malpractice lawyer is that she or he is a good trial lawyer.  Good trial lawyers are made, not born.  That is not to say that natural talent plays no role because it plays a big role.  However, no matter how talented you are, you will be a better trial lawyer in your twentieth trial than you were in your first.

Like the defense medical malpractice lawyers, your lawyer must “know” the medicine.  This does not mean that your lawyer has handled exactly the same case before.  What it means is that your lawyer understands medicine, medical procedures and anatomy, is comfortable with medical terms, and knows how to do medical literature research.  He or she will be able to learn the medicine associated with your case, will be able to find qualified experts to testify for you and will be able to cross-examine the defendant provider and the defense experts, who will always try to baffle your attorney with BS, if they can get away with it.  Your attorney has to be able to hold their feet to the fire and pin them down about what happened and their opinions.

Most doctors have a “consent clause” in their insurance policies.  Unless the doctor gives written consent to allow settlement, the insurance company cannot enter into negotiations.  Your attorney needs to demonstrate to the defendant doctor, the defense attorney and the experts that he or she can get your case to the jury and may win it despite the odds.  Doctors who are concerned about the outcome at trial will usually give their consent.

Your attorney must also be able to evaluate your case.  If your attorney does not properly evaluate your case, he or she may demand too much money and may pass on a settlement that should have been accepted.  On the other hand, if your attorney values your case too low, you may end up receiving less than you should have.  Evaluating cases is a difficult job as it involves weighing the contested liability issues, estimating the amount of damages a jury might be willing to award and evaluating the performances of the parties and their experts at deposition and their likely performances at trial.  Newbies don’t have the experience necessary to do a good job evaluating.

Lastly, your attorney must be able to negotiate effectively on your behalf.  The insurance companies always start low and move up only grudgingly.  Your attorney must be able to craft a negotiating strategy that encourages the insurance company adjuster to keep making offers without going too low too fast.

Doctors and hospitals have a lot of natural advantages in medical malpractice suits.  You need to do everything you can to level the playing field.  Selecting an experienced malpractice lawyer is an important first step.

 

Posted in Doctors, Finding a Medical Malpractice Lawyer, Hospital Negligence, Hospitals, Lawsuits, Medical Malpractice, Medical Malpractice Case Value, medical malpractice cases, medical malpractice claims, medical malpractice lawsuits, medical malpractice lawyers, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, medical negligence lawyers, personal injury lawyers, plaintiff, trial, Valuing Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases |

Consolidation Threatens Doctor Independence.

November 04, 2019

If you are not concerned about consolidation in the delivery of medical services, you should be.  We like to think of the medical profession as individual providers who care about us and also care for us.  We like to think that they have our best interests at heart and give us unbiased recommendations.  Increasingly, there is a yawning gap between what we would like to think and the reality of the medical profession.

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As in so many areas of our economy, consolidation is occurring.  There are almost no independent hospitals in metropolitan areas now.  They are almost all part of a chain which may have many, many hospitals in numerous states.  Banner Health, which is based here in Phoenix, has 28 acute care hospitals in multiple states.  It owns and operates many other facilities.  It employs over 50,000 people and is the largest private employer in Arizona.  All of the major hospitals in the Phoenix area are owned by hospital chains.

The presence of hospital chains in your area is important because studies have shown that consolidation drives up the cost of health care in a market.   While consolidation allows hospital chains to reduce duplication and therefore reduce costs, those reductions do not translate into reductions in price.  To the contrary, prices go up when there is consolidation.  Often patients are given more treatment when there is consolidation.  More treatment means more health care to be paid for by patients and their insurers.

Many of the same chains that are buying up hospitals are also buying up medical practices.  They become the owner of the medical practice and the employer of the physicians and nurses who work there.  The arrangement is attractive to the doctors because they no longer have to worry about billings and collections; the hospital chain handles all that.

Now there is a new player in the race to purchase physician practices:  private equity.  Here is a story about private equity buying an orthopedic practice in Michigan.   The potential for large returns on investment is said to be attracting the interest of investors.

Hospital chains are also looking for a return on their investment when they buy a physician practice.  They usually expect the newly employed physicians to send their patients to the hospital chain’s local hospital or to use the chain’s laboratories for tests.  But what if the chain’s local hospital is not the best one for a patient?  What if the doctor does not send enough patients to the chain’s local hospital for it to make the profit it expected when it bought the practice and hired the doctor?  No matter what the doctor or hospital chain say, the purchase of the practice puts pressure on the doctor employees to generate business for the chain.  The decisions which are made while under that pressure may not be in the best interest of the doctor’s patients.

The pressure from venture capital to return large profits may be even more intense than any pressure a hospital chain may apply.  At least a hospital chain is bound by certain medical ethics and by licensing requirements.  Chains cannot be too heavy handed.  They need the public to consider them “good guys.”  No such constraints apply to private equity.  These are the same people who buy companies, fire employees, and then sell off the pieces, often leaving nothing but a bankrupt shell behind.

I for one don’t want my doctor to feel that he or she must produce a certain level of profit for their venture capital partners or their hospital chain employers when they are deciding whether I need an operation or not.  Neither should you.  Make sure you know for whom your doctor is working.  Seek second opinions from other doctors who don’t have a profit motive to recommend a procedure for you.  Be an informed consumer.

 

Posted in Doctors, Fee for Service, Health Care Costs, Hospitals, Medical Costs, medical ethics, Medicare, Secrecy |

You Are Being Operated On, Do You Know Where Your Surgeon Is?

October 28, 2019

A recent story about a Syracuse, New York orthopedic surgeon casts light on a practice that will likely come as a shock to most patients.  The surgeon is accused of botching a hip replacement in which his patient allegedly suffered a fractured femur and removing too much bone.  During the trial it was revealed that the surgeon performed as many as 14 surgeries a day.  He would do what he contended was the most critical part of a surgery and then leave the patient in the hands of an assistant to conclude the surgery while he went to another operating room.  In the other operating room, he would again perform what he contended was the most critical part before moving on again and again and again.  In this way, the surgeon could earn as much as $56,000 in a day of surgery.

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The jury was not amused  and unanimously awarded the patient, who is in constant pain and must now use a cane, $2 Million.  The award was based on $1.25 Million for past pain and suffering, $250,000 for future pain and suffering and $500.000 to the patient’s husband for past and future loss of services caused by the wife’s injury.  The patient is now 63.  She was 57 at the time of the hip replacement surgery.

As is almost always the case in these situations, the surgeon is appealing the jury’s verdict on the usual grounds:  it is too large; it was the result of passion and prejudice; the patient’s attorney should not have brought up the number of surgeries the doctor did in a day.

All of that is beside the point of our discussion.  How many patients are adequately informed that the surgeon they have chosen to perform their surgery is only going to do a part of it and leave the rest to someone else while he or she goes off to another patient?  How many patients who were clearly informed of this would agree to it?  I am pretty sure that every one of this surgeon’s patients has a disclosure somewhere in the many consents which precede such surgeries stating that other surgeons may perform part of the surgery.  If asked, I am pretty sure the primary surgeon would tell is patients that this is a minor thing and not to be worried about it as he or she will be there for all the important parts.

The bottom line, however, is that your surgeon will not be there for the entire surgery.  It will be in his or her discretion what is important and when to leave.  If an emergency occurs after the primary surgeon has left, he or she may not be able to return to deal with it depending on the status of the next surgery they are doing.  They may not be able to interrupt it to leave.

I am in favor of surgeons who do a lot of the procedure you need to have.  They will usually be more efficient and skilled at the procedure than someone who only does the procedure occasionally.  This case points out that there can be too much of a good thing.  Fourteen surgeries a day is too many in my opinion for the surgeon to be giving each patient the attention that patient deserves.

Ask your surgeon whether he or she will be with you throughout your surgery.  Be concerned if the answer is anything other than an unqualified, “Yes.”

Posted in Doctors, Fee for Service, Fraud, Hip Replacement, Informed Consent, joint replacement, medical errors, medical ethics, Medical Malpractice, medical malpractice cases, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, Orthopedics, Surgical Errors, Verdicts |

Some Really Good News About Prostate Cancer

October 21, 2019

One in nine men will develop prostate cancer during their lifetimes.  Most will die of something else.  Fewer than 20% will develop the aggressive form of the cancer which is most likely to spread and to kill the patient.  Until now, medicine has not had a reliable way of detecting prostate cancer and then distinguishing between low-level cancers and the aggressive ones likely to cause death.

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The most common form of test for prostate cancer today is the PSA test.  PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) is a protein produced by the prostate.  When prostate cancer is present, the prostate produces more PSA.  An increase in a patient’s PSA levels may, therefore, indicate the presence of cancer.  The problem, however, is that there are other, reasons why the prostate might produce higher levels of PSA, including infection, inflammation and benign enlargement of the prostate.  A high PSA reading is what medicine calls a “non-specific finding,” that is, it may have many causes and is not necessarily indicative of the presence of disease.

In order to determine if a high PSA reading is the result of prostate cancer, doctors usually perform a biopsy of the prostate.  In the biopsy, a needle is inserted into the prostate and some cells are removed and analyzed.  Biopsies of the prostate are risky and may cause bleeding and infection.  Even if they detect the presence of cancerous tumor cells, the cancer may be of the slow-growing kind that should not be the subject of aggressive treatment.  Most urologists and oncologists agree that slow growing tumors should be carefully watched and aggressively treated only if they show signs of rapid progression.

Many men, however, upon being told they have prostate cancer are reluctant to accept a suggestion of “watchful waiting.”  It may be because they fear any diagnosis of cancer.  It may be because their families insist they “get something done.”  Positive biopsies, therefore, often lead to one of the three main treatments for prostate cancer:  (1) prostatectomy, in which the prostate is removed; (2) radiation therapy; or (3) brachytherapy, in which radioactive beads are placed in the prostate.  While these treatments may be successful in controlling prostate cancer, each is likely to leave the patient both unable to get a functioning erection and incontinent of urine.

For all these reasons, it is widely recognized that the PSA test leads to overdiagnosis of prostate cancer and overtreatment.  A better test is needed and one may be at hand.

A paper recently published in the Journal of Urology found that patients with aggressive forms of prostate cancer could be identified with over 90% accuracy by the presence of circulating tumor cells in the blood combined with elevated PSA scores and a positive 12 gene panel study.  The new test will permit doctors to avoid unnecessary biopsies and treatments and concentrate their resources on prostate cancers which are truly aggressive.  It will also save many men from impotence and incontinence.

Researchers expect the new test, which needs regulatory approval, to become widely available in the next three to five years.

Posted in Cancer, Doctors, General Health, genetic testing, health, Health Care Costs, Infection, medical research, Prostate Cancer, prostate cancer testing, science news |

Nursing Homes Can Kill You – Even If You Never Set Foot In One

October 14, 2019

As the population of the United States ages, more and more of us will find ourselves or our loved ones in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.  There is more and more data to suggest that these facilities are harming the health, not only of their patients, but of individuals and patients who never enter a nursing home or long-term care facility.

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Some of the most recent evidence of this hazard comes courtesy of a drug resistant fungal infection called Candida auris.  This highly contagious infection was first identified in Japan in 2009 and came to the United States in 2015.  Since its arrival, it has infected nearly 800 people, half of whom usually die within 90 days of becoming infected.  It is but one of the drug-resistant and other infections that are all too common in nursing homes.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities play an important role in spreading drug resistant infections throughout the woder community.  The facilities house patients who are either ill or aged or both and whose immune systems are weak.  They are prime candidates for infection.  Additionally, some of these facilities are understaffed or do not train their staff well in infection control or the staff, even if well-trained, does not follow safe practices.  As a result, infections often spread rapidly among the patients who are cared for in these facilities.

While it is bad enough that patients in these facilities are exposed to and infected by the other patients and the staff carrying pathogens from room to room, the greater public health risk arises when one of these infected patients becomes seriously ill.  At that point, an ambulance takes them to a traditional hospital, where they may introduce their infection to the other hospital patients.  Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are reservoirs of dangerous infections, which they repeatedly bring to regular hospitals.

The New York Times recently had an article about the role nursing homes and long-term care facilities play in the spread of infection.  One of the important quotes in the article referred to these facilities, “They are caldrons that are constantly seeding and reseeding hospitals with increasingly dangerous bacteria,” said Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York who leads the nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. “You’ll never protect hospital patients until the nursing homes are forced to clean up.”

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases reported high rates of drug-resistant infections in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.  Patients, staff and family may carry drug-resistant germs around on their bodies without showing symptoms and spread them to other patients and other family members.  The researchers found that 65% of the residents of nursing homes in Southern California carried a drug-resistant pathogen.  Similar pathogens were carried by 80% of the residents of long-term acute care hospitals.  By contrast, only 10-15% of patients in traditional hospitals carried the pathogens.

Nursing homes and long-term care hospitals present a dangerous health risk to all of us.  If they don’t clean up their act, these drug-resistant infections will continue to spread.  It may or may not already be too late to prevent the spread of these infections but it is never too late to begin to observe proper infection control in these facilities and elsewhere.  If you visit a patient in one of these facilities, do your part and observe proper infection control protocols.  Don’t let yourself or your family become infected.

Posted in antibiotic resistant bacteria, blood infections, General Health, health, healthy living, Hospitals, Infection, medical research, Nurses, science news, Sepsis |

Medical Malpractice Down Under

October 07, 2019

A sad story appeared recently in the national press.  A young cricket player in Australia broke her thumb in a game.  She went to a nationally recognized hospital in her area for treatment.  She was correctly told that this could be easily fixed with a surgical procedure followed by placement of a cast over the thumb.  She consented, the procedure was done and she was sent home in a cast.

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Six days later, she returned in excruciating pain.  When the cast was removed, the doctors and nurses were shocked to see that her thumb was cold, dark and almost completely dead.  The cause was immediately obvious, someone had forgotten to remove the tourniquet at the base of the thumb which had been placed to control bleeding during the surgery.  The tourniquet had continued to keep blood from flowing to the thumb after the surgery and the thumb was dying.

When doctors reviewed the medical records to see how this could have happened, they found that someone had checked the box to indicate that the tourniquet had been removed at the conclusion of surgery.  It was unclear who had checked the box when it was obvious that the tourniquet had not in fact been removed.

After attempts to save the thumb were unsuccessful, doctors had to amputate it.  They tried to replace it with one of the patient’s big toes but the result was less than completely successful.  The young woman will never play cricket again.  She has a thumb that is unattractive and not very functional.  In addition, she has problems with the foot from which the toe was taken.

The moral of this sad story, to the extent there is one, is don’t just assume that severe pain you are having after a surgery is normal.  Don’t just assume the doctors and nurses have done everything right.  Pain is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong.  Severe pain is the body’s way of telling us something is seriously wrong.  While there will almost always be pain after a surgery, it should not be excruciating and should get better over the next couple of days.  If it does not, or if it gets worse, start making noise and insisting that someone examine you.

I have seen a number of cases in my practice in which there has been a surgical error and the patient has extreme pain after the procedure.  Often, the patient assumes that the pain is normal and does not call to complain.  They don’t want to be a bother or be seen as a whiner.  When the patient does call to complain, it is often the case that a low level person in the doctor’s office assures the patient that the pain is normal and nothing to worry about.  Don’t let these people put you off.  Be polite but persistent that you want to be seen by someone.  If there is something wrong, the sooner it is recognized and addressed, the better the chance that you won’t suffer a permanent injury like our poor Australian cricketeer.

 

 

Posted in Doctors, Hospital Negligence, Hospitals, medical errors, Medical Malpractice, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, never events, Nurses, Orthopedics, Surgical Errors |

Pulmonary Embolism and Medical Malpractice

September 30, 2019

Pulmonary embolism is a medical condition in which blood clots form in the return, or venous, circulation and are passed by the heart into the lungs where they interfere with oxygen exchange.  The larger the clot or the greater the number of clots, the greater the degree of interference.  Symptoms can range anywhere from mild to severe shortness of breath.  When patients go to the doctor or hospital with symptoms of pulmonary embolism and are not treated properly, great harm, up and including death, can result.  Malpractice suits often follow.

Pulmonary embolism

I have handled a number of pulmonary embolism cases over my career.  All of them involved the death of the patient.  Patients can be failed by the medical system in a number of ways but the most common is the failure of the doctor to recognize and diagnose the pulmonary embolism.  One of my cases involved a man in his 60’s who went to the emergency department with significant shortness of breath.  After working him up, the emergency department physician diagnosed him with a cold and sent him home.  By the time he returned the following day, he was at death’s door and it was too late to save him.

Those who have studied this problem consistently state that doctors seeing patients who are short of breath must have a high “index of suspicion” that they may be seeing pulmonary embolism and test for it.  Most often the source of the blood clots is a larger clot in the deep veins of the leg.  This is called a deep vein thrombosis or a DVT.  Pieces break off the large clot and travel to the lungs where they become trapped in the small vessels where the lung exchanges CO2 for oxygen.  Once they become trapped, they prevent any further flow of blood into the portion of the lung downstream from their location.  The larger the clot, the sooner it becomes trapped and the greater the portion of the lung which is put out of commission.  If a very large piece of clot breaks off, it has the potential to become trapped at the very top of the lungs and cause death within minutes.

Once doctors recognize the presence of pulmonary embolism, the most common form of treatment is the administration of anticoagulants to keep the blood from clotting and to gently break up the clots that are already present.

There are, of course, other ways for doctors to make mistakes that cause or allow a patient to develop pulmonary embolisms.  One of my cases involved a man who had known problems with blood clots in his legs and was on regular blood thinners to prevent clot formation.  Unfortunately, he needed a hip replacement.  You cannot have a hip replacement while taking blood thinners so they had to be stopped prior to the surgery.  There was a lack of communication between the orthopedic surgeon who performed the procedure and the doctor who saw the patient in the hospital after the procedure and who discharged him.  Because of the lack of communication, the patient’s blood thinner medication was not restarted when he was discharged.  A few days later, his wife returned to the house to find him dead on the floor.  A massive clot had formed in his leg and traveled to the lungs.  Another death which never should have happened.

Still another form of malpractice occurs when a patient is on blood thinners for a while because of DVT and the doctor takes the patient off the blood thinners too soon and the DVT reoccurs.

There is not much patients can do to avoid being injured by pulmonary embolism.  The best advice is to remain hydrated, to be alert to pain in the legs which might mean a DVT is present and to make sure doctors don’t forget about your anticoagulant prescription, if you have one and it has to be temporarily stopped while you have an operation.

Posted in Blood Clots, Doctors, Hip Replacement, medical errors, Medical Malpractice, medical malpractice cases, medical malpractice claims, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, Misdiagnosis, Pulmonary Embolism |

Just Because A Doctor Says It . . .

September 23, 2019

There is a saying no patient should ever forget, “Just because a doctor says it, doesn’t make it true.”  As I have often remarked before, medicine is a business, and a big one at that, and we are its customers.  Doctors sell us their services.  While most doctors have their patient’s best interests at heart, there are those who are in it for the money and want to sell as much product as they can.  A good example can be found in a recent story which appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

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Heart stents used to be a big money maker for some doctors.  They were placing them even though the science did not show that they were effective in treating coronary artery disease.  Over time, the medical consensus that they were not effective became so strong that the number of coronary artery stents being placed declined significantly.  However, much like the old “whack-a-mole” game, stents have now popped up in a new location.  Now some doctors are unnecessarily placing stents in leg arteries and risking the health of their patients by doing so.

When placed in leg arteries, stents are a form of peripheral vascular intervention.  Another aggressive intervention in the legs is an atherectomy, which is a procedure to remove plaque from an artery.  Both procedures address plaque deposits in arteries of the leg.  Almost every person in the United States who is 80 years old has some plaque deposits in the arteries of their legs.  It is only when those deposits become large enough to interfere with blood flow and cause pain that intervention should be considered.  Some doctors don’t want to wait that long.

The WSJ story was based on a study published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery which found that some physicians were placing stents in leg arteries and removing plaque at rates 4 to 5 times the national average.  The authors of the study examined Medicare records to determine the rates at which various doctors performed the procedure and discovered the large discrepancy between the average doctor and about 320 physicians, who were far more aggressive.  One doctor, who was part of the research team, went so far as to write a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in which he claimed that these “outlier” physicians “may represent a serious and immediate threat to public safety.”

According to research on the subject, patients who have early leg pain due to narrowing of arteries in the leg have a 1% to 2% risk of limb loss in the next five years.  Aggressive procedures increase that risk to 5% to 10% because they may create blockages in narrow arteries or cause treated arteries to rupture.  The Society for Vascular Surgery has published guidelines which recommend these types of aggressive interventions only after patients who have leg pain when they walk have failed medical and exercise therapy and are experiencing symptoms which limit their activities.

The president of the Society for Vascular Surgery has offered the opinion that patients with leg pain who make positive lifestyle changes may never need aggressive vascular interventions or, if they do, can put them off for many years.  As he notes, the later in life a patient needs an aggressive peripheral vascular procedure, the better.

Be an informed consumer.  Get second opinions.  When a doctor recommends surgery or an operative procedure, ask about less aggressive, less invasive alternatives.  Ask about your doctor.  Look at her or his record at the state Medical Board.  Ask how often he or she performs the procedure being recommended and what the complication rate has been.  You can never guarantee that you won’t be victimized by the medical profession but you can give yourself the best chance of a good outcome by being careful and asking questions.

Posted in Arizona Medical Board, Blood Clots, Doctors, Fee for Service, health, Health Care Costs, healthy living, Medical Costs, medical ethics, Medical Malpractice, Medicare |

Staggering Malpractice at the VA

September 16, 2019

A Veterans’ Administration pathologist sits in jail today.  He is charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three veterans who sought treatment at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Investigation has revealed that he routinely misread pathology studies submitted to him.  It is believed that his misdiagnoses led to the death of at least 15 patients and seriously harmed many more.  The malpractice went undetected for at least 14 years.

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The obvious question is, “How could this have happened?”  The results of the investigation do not provide a good answer.  The pathologist, Dr. Robert Levy, was an alcoholic and an addict.  He was often impaired at work.  He used a liquid agent which gave him a quick and powerful high but was undetectable on routine drug and alcohol tests.  To cover up his mistakes, he altered patient records.

There were red flags flying for Dr. Levy all over the Fayetteville hospital.  He had a DUI before he was hired by the VA.  He was discovered to be impaired on arrival at work on two documented occasions years before the extent of his malpractice became known.  In spite of this, no one investigated his work.  He was even given performance bonuses for having an exceptionally low error rate.  In fact, later investigation showed that his actual error rate was 10%, an astonishingly high number.

This is particularly distressing when you remember that he was often asked to look at a specimen and determine if it was cancerous or not.  On some occasions, Dr. Levy reported that cancer was not present when it was while on other occasions he reported that cancer was present when it was not.  Patients who were assured they did not have cancer died when their cancers went untreated.  Patients who were told they had cancer when they did not underwent debilitating radiation and chemotherapy treatment, which was completely unnecessary.

Dr. Levy was the Chief of Pathology at the hospital.  Following routine practice, Dr. Levy regularly reviewed a certain number of the tissue and fluid samples analyzed by his subordinate to make sure the diagnosis was correct.  His subordinate reviewed a certain number of his for the same reason.  These reviews showed an extremely low error rate by Dr. Levy, an error rate which sometimes reached zero.  Later investigation revealed that Dr. Levy was using his position as Chief of Pathology to alter the reports of his subordinate and make it look like the subordinate agreed with Dr. Levy’s diagnoses.

While this is an outrageous case, it has a lot in common with other, less outrageous cases.  Hospitals are just not very good at discovering impaired or incompetent physicians.  Nurses, staff and even other doctors assume that their colleagues are competent and unimpaired.  Doctors who have addictions are often very good at hiding their tracks.  As always, patients need to be proactive and informed about their health care.  Ask questions and be sure to get satisfactory answers.  Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion when told you do or don’t have a significant medical condition.

 

 

Posted in Cancer, disclosure of medical mistakes, Doctors, Fraud, Hospitals, medical errors, Medical Malpractice, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, Misdiagnosis, Nurses |

Lawyer Loses Her Race Against Cancer.

September 09, 2019

A Baltimore attorney lost her race against breast cancer last week.  She also lost her chance to have her medical malpractice case decided before she died.  Attorney Katrina Dennis claimed that her surgeon failed to properly advise her when he operated to remove her breasts due to a finding of a cancerous lump.  There was cancerous tissue left behind on the chest wall.  Ms. Dennis alleged that her surgeon should have referred her to an oncologist and that she should have been given an anti-cancer drug to kill off the few remaining cancer cells.  Neither of those things happened.  Two years later, she went to urgent care with pain in her back.  The breast cancer had gone unchecked and had spread to her bones and vital organs.

 

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Ms. Dennis brought suit but, by the time the trial began, she was in the hospital in terminal condition.  She died during the first week of trial.  She was only 40.

Her fate is shared by many cancer patients who believe that their cancers were misdiagnosed or not treated appropriately.  By the time the medical mistake is recognized, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and the race is on to get the case filed and resolved before death takes the patient.

These are always challenging cases for a malpractice attorney.  Once the patient becomes a client, the attorney must do everything she or he can to move the case along and get it resolved before the patient dies.  This includes taking a videotape deposition of the patient as soon as possible after filing.

The attempts to accelerate the case are always resisted by the defense and sometimes for good reason.  Speeding the case up can prejudice the defendants by forcing them to respond and go to trial before they have had a fair opportunity to discover all the relevant facts.  On the other hand, were the court to require the defense attorneys to give the patient’s case priority, the necessary preparation could be done in a much shorter time than the defense requests.

Sometimes though, I am forced to wonder if the delays requested by the defense are sought in good faith.  Everyone involved in the case knows that the patient is dying.  We all also know that the case is far less valuable if the patient has passed away than if she is still alive at the time of trial.  The difference in the verdict can be many millions of dollars.  Juries are often quite sympathetic to a patient who has only a few more months to live.  I cannot help but think that the defense lawyers and the insurance companies recognize that time is their friend and push for more of it than they actually need to prepare their case for trial.

It is important for a patient who believes that his or her cancer was not diagnosed properly or not treated properly get to a lawyer as soon as possible.  The clock is running and no one can predict how soon death will come calling.  If the patient is to receive any compensation at a time when they can still use it, suit must be filed quickly and pushed hard.  Understandably, the shock of the diagnosis and the desire to get aggressive treatment usually take precedence and going to see a lawyer is well down the list of things on the mind of a cancer patient facing a terminal diagnosis.  That said, it is important for a malpractice victim to contact a lawyer promptly, if she or he wants any chance at justice.

 

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Doctors, Lawsuits, medical errors, Medical Malpractice, Medical Malpractice Case Value, medical malpractice lawsuits, medical mistakes, Medical Negligence, Misdiagnosis, plaintiff, trial |