Thursday, May 19th, 2016
Umpteen articles and op-eds have been written about malpractice lawsuits. I found Laura Landro’s Wall Street Journal piece heartening as she described how doctors are using the information to improve care.
This approach is clearly a benefit to physicians to alleviate the number of distracting and time-consuming lawsuits made against them but as a patient, I was glad that someone is learning from the mistakes to prevent future instances. I also hope this initiative is nothing new.
In “Mining Malpractice Data to Make Health Care Safer,” Landro reports on a 2013 study that doctors spend “11 percent of a 40 year career with an unresolved, open malpractice case.” Scarier is the statistic that “250,000 deaths a year are due to medical error.” This, according to Landro, came from a recent article in BMJ that noted findings by Johns Hopkins researchers. Commonly the causes are misdiagnosis or “poor technique in a procedure.”
Landro broke out what doctors in a few specialties have learned:
- Usually overweight mothers matched with larger babies can cause shoulder injuries to infants if they get stuck inside the mother. By identifying those who might be at risk for this set of circumstances, a hospital and doctor can address the option of a C-section early.
- In the ER, one doctor noticed that “failure to explore a wound that was infected or contained foreign bodies was a key factor in many cases.” Now a doctor in that hospital must check a wound after a nurse or PA attends to it and before it’s sewn up. They noticed that this, alone, didn’t do the trick because sometimes they miss, say, a stingray barb. Therefore patients must be instructed to return to the hospital if they don’t feel well.
- In cardiology, blood thinners cause problems because “patients haven’t been properly educated about the risks and didn’t understand follow up instructions.” And when more than one doctor is involved, each may think that the other one has taken care of communicating this information. The solution was to ensure all patients on blood thinners are “‘set up with effective management,’” wrote Landro, quoting Dr. Sandeep Mangalmurti, a cardiologist.
- Follow up is also crucial in knee and hip replacement cases where patients don’t “adhere to a treatment plan or keep follow-up appointments.” A third of cases involved injury as a result. One doctor and his group use a mobile app to send reminders to patients about making appointments and follow-up procedures.
By the end of the article we read that improved communications between doctors and patients is paramount. To that I must add a loud “duh.” Isn’t this a tall order in a system in which patients see a doctor for minutes a visit and often a different doctor each time?
- Doesn’t a lot of what the doctors found went wrong repeatedly seem like what common sense should have prevented?
- Would you be less likely to start a medical malpractice suit if you felt the physician and his/her team had done everything possible to care for you or a loved one?
- Have you ever felt that a health care professional treated you or a loved one indifferently—that you were lucky nothing tragic happened as a result?
- Have you heard of initiatives that take advantage of such date, like these?