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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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WARNING: 200,000 deaths from medical mistakes each year

9 comments

Scientific American, one of the country’s most prestigious scientific publications dropped a bombshell in it’s recent article “How Many Die from Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?” The author, Marshall Allen, drops the bombshell in the first paragraphs:

It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient’s death, the numbers come out worse.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials 2014 and quoted ubiquitously in the media.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher 2014 between210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says.

That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.

From 98,000 avoidable deaths in in 1999 to 180,000 avoidable deaths in 2010 to 210,000 avoidable deaths in 2013 tells a shocking story of a medical profession obscessed with avoiding responsibility. With substantial lobbying resources and the willingness to hide the true facts of medical mistakes behind the white coats and the stethascopes, the doctors have allowed significant malpractice to go unpunished.

At the heart of the problem is the conspiaracy of silence. In order to file a lawsuit against a doctor or hospital in Hawaii you must have a doctor in that specialty to testify that there was an avoidable mistake which means it wasn’t just an unfortunate but unavoidable event. But doctors won’t testify against doctors or hospitals. Using the mentality and morals of the mob, the medical profession has chosen to put patients at risk rather than holding their own accountable. Without accountability the bad practices continue, more patients get hurt and bad doctors continue to work on patients without repercussions.

The great consumer advocate Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice & Democracy has just published a paper that addresses the issue generally described as “Caps on damages”:  New Consumer Study Debunks Myths About California’s Medical Malpractice “Cap” and Access to Patient Care. The California law, MICRA, limits what an injured patient can recover at $250,000 for general damages. As explained by the Consumer Attorneys of California

California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act was signed into law in 1975 in response to a perceived but later discredited crisis in the rising cost of premiums for medical malpractice insurance. MICRA caps compensation for what are known as “non-economic” damages – including life-altering situations such as the loss of limbs or mobility, severe disfigurement, loss of vision or fertility, ongoing pain, loss of a parent or spouse or child.  But even after MICRA took effect, those premiums continued to rise (pdf). It was only after passage in 1988 of Proposition 103, which gave the state the power to regulate premium increases, that healthcare providers had the assurance they would not be gouged by malpractice insurers.

The death of a child would allow no more than $250,000 to be assessed against the doctor whose mistake led to the death. According to the Consumer Attorneys of California (COAC):

MICRA also acts as a roadblock to the justice system for people harmed by the health care system. Medical malpractice cases are long and difficult, with the costs for plaintiff’s attorneys rising to $100,000 or more. Those expenses are not recovered unless the victim prevails against the teams of insurance industry lawyers who defend negligence cases. But because of the tight caps on potential judgments, many victims are unable to find an attorney who can afford to take their cases

I have heard that  a coalition of organizations working for patient safety in California will be putting an initiative on the ballot that will ask voters to remove the MICRA protections for bad doctors.

Hawaii continues to face pressure from the insurance industry and the medical profession to pass laws such as  MICRA. Hopefully Hawaii’s elected officials will resist the pressure from the lobbyists.

9 Comments

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  1. Sarah Hitchcock-Glover says:
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    Thank you Mr. Parsons for this column.Please see the perfect example of a meritorious case story written up by Jason Hoppin of the Santa Cruz Sentinel on 9/24/13. Double injustice when we came up against MICRA in CA after the wrongful death of our 12 year old son.

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    Thank you Sarah for sharing the story of your son Adam. I read the article and commend it to everyone: “A mother’s lament: Five years after son’s death, Los Gatos mom wants legal changes” – By Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel. The public needs to understand that politicians passed MICRA at the behest of the powereful medical profession and even moreso the insurance companies that insure doctors and hospitals, manufactured a fictitious and false campaign alleging frivilous lawsuits. As my article points out just the opposite is true. Hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of serious injuries that are caused by doctor and hospital negligence, are going unpunished. I turn away over 95% of the people who call my office in Hawaii with a medical negligence claim, not because their cases lack merit but because the laws have made it too hard and too expensive to sue from the substandard care. And Hawaii doesn’t have MICRA or a similar law. Thank you for staying involved in alerting the publiuc to this outrage. I am supporting the Consumer Attorneys of Califorinia and consumer advocates like Jamie Copurt at Consumer Watchdog for taking on the doctors and insurance companies that put money and profits over people.

  3. jc says:
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    I read the story also. I strongly support caps on “pain and suffering” damages. From personal experience in Ohio, I know that my malpractice rates dropped 40% when “pain and suffering” damages were capped. A typical medical malpractice yearly premium in my field costs $20,000 a year for a standard $1,000,000/$3,000,000 policy. If “pain and suffering” damages were uncapped, I would have to double my policy limits which would double my yearly premium to $40,000/year. That’s my medical field. In the late 1990s, before caps on pain and suffering, neurosurgeons in my town were paying $200K per year for a $1,000,000/$3,000,000 policy and because of that we lost 4 out of 5 neurosurgeons. Like it or not, society regularly places limitations on litigation – - -this is one limitation which needs to be kept.

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    I am wondering how many of you out there agree with “jc”? He/she feels that his/her cost of insurance is more important than than the pain, suffering, disfigurement and disability or death of a child. I guess it might mean only a 3 week European vacation next year? So in order to keep doctors incomes high _ does anyone doiubt that doctors make a lot of money? _ the patients who are injured by a careless doctor through an avoidable injury are forced to go without compenstaion and they are prevented from even bringing a claim against a bad doctor? Is that what the public wants? Sarah perhaps might have something to say to “jc”. And “jc” can you explain to Sarah why her son is not as important as a doctor’s insurance premium? Finally, there is no evidence to support jc’s statement that caps on damages lowers doctor’s insurance premiums. Even the doctor’s own insurance companies have stated that caps do not and will not lower premiums. I can supply those references to anyone who wants them. I challenge jc to name the 4 neurosurgeons who left the practice and prove his statements but I doubt he will do that.

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    For those who read jc’s comment about doctors leaving Ohio, the true statistics are that in 2011, there were 12% more physicians per 100,000 population in states without caps than there were in Ohio. That is from “Medical Liability Monitor” in 2012. In addition, medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, averaged across specialties, are higher in Ohio than in states without caps on damages. How much are premiums? In Ohio with caps in place they are $45,700 annually on average and in states without caps they are $45,100 annually. And the premium has nothing to do with medical malpractice lawsuits as every commentator and all research on this subject agrees. What do these facts show? That even if you might buy the false premises advanced by jc, that they simply aren’t true. jc as most of the medical profession attempt to mislead the public with completely unsubstantiated false claims like those made by jc. You can judge the entire debate by jc’s misleading statements. Don’t be fooled.

  6. Mike Bryant says:
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    Great point Wayne, What a surprise that Doctor Cox would make something up, So Dr Cox what would have happened to your rates if you would have told the true to that family?

  7. jc says:
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    Guys, I am a private doc, so I write the checks for my yearly malpractice premiums. Prior to caps on pain and suffering damages, in the late 1990s, I was writing checks for $30+K. Now, since “pain and suffering” caps have been validated by the Ohio Supreme Court, I pay about $20K per year. Money out of my pocket says a lot more than a bunch of phony statistics the plaintiff’s bar drags up to try and justify their phony litigation.

  8. jc says:
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    Now I would like to address Wayne Parson’s statements about disfigured kids. Notice how all plaintiff attorney statements always use kids in their examples. They never use over weight , smoking welfare clients, out for a fast buck! What I would say to Sarah Hitchcock-Glover is: What did the autopsy of your son show as the cause of his death? Did you make a sincere, persistent effort to talk to the doctors and hospital administrators about the cause of death of your son–or did you just run off to a lawyer? I have not reviewed the medical record, but I can tell you from practice experience, that in the vast majority of cases bad results occurr because of the disease process or patient non-compliance—not medical malpractice as this blog would have you believe. Painful as it may be to plaintiff attorney fees, as a society, legislatures put limitations on all types of litigation for the good of society as a whole.

  9. jc says:
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    Apparently from Wayne Parson’s recent post, he feels that plaintiff attorneys should be immune from bearing any financial liability from malpractice litigation. I mean, in reading Sarah Hitchcock-Glover’s story, why didn’t the plaintiff attorneys simply advance the money for the investigation and litigation of her sons case out of the goodness of their hearts? Lets face it, plaintiff attorneys make a lot of money. A 40% contingency fee on a $2,000,000 award is $800K! That would fund a whole three months in Europe! Couldn’t we ask the plaintiff attorneys to cut their European vacation a couple of weeks short to fund the Sarah Hitchcock-Glover malpractice litigation so that she can find out what really happened to her son and hold the doctor accountable? If her son was so important to her, couldn’t Sarah Hitchcock-Glover share some of the legal expenses with her plaintiff attorney if she was so certian a wrong had been committed and she was entitled to a large settlement? Maybe Mark Bello would like to finance this case, he has lots of bucks and believes in the poor plaintiffs. Come on Mark, you are bankrolling a lot of this litigation, why not show some sympathy and help Sarah Hitchcock-Glover out, after all Mark, you said that plaintiff attorneys get favorable judgements 90% of the time- – -this should be a slam dunk for you!