As reported in the Los Angeles Times , a study shows that in 1999, more than 98,000 wrongful deaths occurred due to medical error, and the number has since fluctuated significantly. The majority of medical errors are caused by the negligence of healthcare professionals when distributing medications. Certain combinations of antibiotics can lead to medical complications and even fatalities. Consequently, this negligence can generate potential medical malpractice lawsuits. Although medical mistakes are likely, healthcare professionals are not properly trained on discussing these medical errors with patients. Despite the staggering statistic that medical error is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, little has been accomplished to better educate healthcare professionals on disclosing viable information to their patients.
Medical Error is defined as “a significant deviation from accepted standards of care.” Accepted standards of care comprise a fundamental right to which a patient is entitled. Further, should a health care professional cause that right to be forfeited, a patient is entitled to be notified and fully informed of the error made. The Los Angeles Times explains, “…research suggests, that most patients would like to know—and know early—if an error has occurred.”
Although a majority of fourth year medical students admit to being associated with a medical error, only a small percentage have received training when dealing with disclosure to their patients. Although disclosure is appropriate, it is not always warranted. For example, a woman enters an emergency room with complaints of vomiting, high fever, aches on her left side, and burning pain when urinating. These are “textbook symptoms” of a Urinary Tract Infection that has spread to the kidneys. The woman is transported to a hospital bed and is given a second dosage of common interventions: Intravenous fluids—an IV is inserted to infuse a large amount of liquid directly into the vein; and Tobramycin— a strong antibiotic with vigorous side effects. Due to the lack of communication amongst the hospital staff, the woman was given two dosages of an antibiotic that can increase the risk of harm to her kidneys. Though no kidney damage occurred, the woman expressed her dismay of being informed about the medical error as it increased her stress level in an already exceptionally aggravating situation; especially, when there was no severe outcome.
Due to medical students’ lack of experience and proper training in disclosure of medical errors, they hesitate to disclose these errors to patients for fear that such disclosure could be detrimental to their medical licenses and careers. If medical students were to be provided with the proper instruction in error disclosure, it would result in decreased medical negligence lawsuits coupled with drastically reduced liability costs; which in turn, would facilitate faster resolutions of claims.
A healthcare professional has a duty to always inform the patient of any life threatening medical error. Whether in a hospital setting or a long term care facility, a patient’s quality of care is the top priority. The Law Offices of Ben Yeroushalmi is an elite elder abuse and neglect firm that rigorously battles to protect the standard of care for elderly patients. If you know a loved one who you suspect is being abused or neglected, please call us at (310) 623-1926 for a free consultation. We serve cities throughout the state of California.