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Paul Kiesel
Paul Kiesel
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California Error: Hospitals Injured Over 1,000 Patients Since July, 2007

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The Los Angeles Times reported today that California Hospitals have injured over 1,000 patients between July, 2007 and May of this year. The incidents are officially called “adverse events,” however, they’re also known as “never events” because the incidents are considered preventable and should not have ever occurred. (These type of hospital errors occur at a rate of about a 100 times a month.)

For instance, in March of this year, a 76-year-old woman died at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center after a nurse gave her two drugs. The problem was that the doctor had not prescribed either drug. There was also, last November, a patient whose appendix was taken out when the patient was in the hospital for a completely different issue — the patient did not need an appendectomy.

Other than the fact the hospitals should have “never” caused a mistake like either of the aforementioned incidents to occur, the hospitals are still charging the patients for the doctors’ or nurses’ mistakes. Naturally, the hospitals do not want to absorb the superfluous costs themselves, but why do they feel the harmed patients are obligated to pick up their mistake-filled tabs?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Revelations of such errors have led lawmakers and hospital associations in at least seven states to protect patients from having to pay for the cost of care that went awry. In Sacramento , an assemblyman proposed a ban on reimbursing hospitals for the types of injuries tracked by the state. But when lobbyists for doctors and hospitals objected, he scaled it back to cover far fewer errors,” (LA Times, 6/30/08).

The Los Angeles Times also provides examples of the type of adverse-event-injuries taking place and their frequency:

The most recent figures [on adverse-event-injuries] available cover the 10 months since July 2007. In that time, 466 patients developed bedsores so severe that the dead skin formed a crater or rotted through to the muscle or bone.

Another 145 patients had foreign objects such as surgical equipment left in their bodies. Thirty-four died while under anesthesia. In 41 surgeries, doctors performed the wrong procedure or operated on the wrong body part or on the wrong patient.

Other than carelessness, another problem that is enabling these avoidable injuries is overcrowded emergency rooms. A 2006 study found that California had fewer emergency rooms per resident than any other state.

And the number of adverse events that have been reported (1,002 injuries since last July) are likely well under the actual number. According to Dr. Donald Bernwick, president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (nonprofit), the number of mistakes is much higher than what California hospitals have disclosed. Dr. Berwick’s institute has estimated that “as many as 15 million patients nationwide are harmed each year in hospitals.”

Unfortunately, in California payments are restricted to $250,000 for medical claims, regardless of how avoidable the injury is. This has been unchanged since 1976. If inflation is taken in to account, that dollar amount would translate to over $3.5 million in medical expenses and noneconomic damages, but the State of California has not adjusted the maximum amount for medical claims in over thirty years. If a person has suffered from an “adverse event” and wants to recoup costs attributed to the incident, including future costs/loss wages, plaintiffs are limited to a maximum of $250,000 for noneconomic damages even if there is more than one defendant being sued for medical malpractice. Furthermore, the surviving spouse and children of a deceased patient are also limited to $250,000 for noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice wrongful death case. However, the spouse of an injured plaintiff suing for his or her own emotional distress as a “direct victim” of the physician’s malpractice, or for loss of consortium, is entitled to a separate $250,000 limit for noneconomic damages.