Medical mistakes are happening at an alarming rate. Some mistakes take away the patient’s livelihood. Some take away their life.
Federal analysts believe the rate of medical errors are increasing. There is no way for a patient to know whether or not a hospital is doing a good job. There is no mandatory reporting system for medical errors. In fact, medical practitioners can be fined up to $10,000 for publicly revealing information about medical errors.
Each year the death toll in relation to medical errors is staggering. Besides medical errors, there are 99,000 people that die each year from hospital acquired infections. This is just above the overall death rate for medical errors with 98,000 people dying each year from medical mistakes.
Recently, I learned of a situation in which a young man almost lost his life because of a hospital acquired infection. This young man is 28 years old. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Hodgkin’s is a highly curable cancer. The treatment regiment is the same usually for most patients. After understanding his treatment plan, he went into the hospital to get a port implanted within his chest. A port is a thin plastic tube that is implanted within the skin. An opening in this port allows drugs like chemotherapy medicines to be placed into the port which then feeds the medicine directly into the vein.
Everything seemed simple enough. The port was implanted. He went home and nursed his wound. Within a matter of days he had developed a fever and was readmitted to the hospital. The diagnosis was MRSA. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is a bacterial infection that is highly resistant to some antibiotics. Most often, this type of infection is too common within hospitals. Staphylococcus infections run rampant in hospitals. It can be easily spread from patient to patient.
Within days, this 28 year old young man, in excellent shape, with excellent pulmonary functioning, was admitted into the intensive care unit. Mechanical ventilation was looming. He was close to death. the infection had spread into his lung. Though not common, this infection was now in his lungs and was making it very difficult for him to breathe. He was near death. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived this secondary infection. Now, he knows better. He orders every physician within the hospital to disinfect their stethascope prior to examining him when he goes for chemotherapy. He asks for a private room, when available, for chemotherapy treatments. Patients do not always feel comfortable speaking up. However, it is your life. Nobody is more concerned about your life than you.
There was another example that comes to mind when I think about medical mistakes. I was working as a case manager within the insurance industry. I was assigned to work on a case of a local businessman. My job was to move his care and treatment along and cost contain wherever possible. I took my job seriously. I treated my clients like family.
So it was that I began working with this local businessman. He had been injured on the job when a small piece of metal became a projectile and imbedded itself into his forearm. He was sent to the hospital where they though surgery was warranted. However, the piece of metal was acting like a cork. To remove it would take a highly trained specialist. Soon enough, this man’s hand began to close in on itself into the form of a claw.
Now on the scene, I ushered him to a highly respected hand surgeon, with years of experience, practicing at a nearby hospital. Surgery was ordered. I kept close eye on his treatment plan and progress. After surgery, he would call me for support and tell me he was in a lot of pain. He stated he had complained of this pain in the recovery room and asked to speak to his surgeon. Instead, he was passed by and ordered a nerve block to deal with his pain. They thought he was just having an unusual reaction to pain, exaggerated reaction to pain. He was then sent home.
Within the day, he contacted me and complained of the severe pain he was having. He told me that his arm was swelling. Doing my job, I convinced him to call the surgeon’s office and ask them to see him. He did. They refused. He called me back and I urgently got on the phone and called the office myself. I vehemently explained the situation and need for this individual to be seen. Again, we were put off due to the business of this practice. My gut told me something wasn’t right. This was not a man that was a complainer. If he was in pain, something was wrong.
Finally, I called my client back and told him to meet me at the hospital parking lot. I explained that we would go to the doctor’s office and wait there until they agreed to see him. He was a bit taken back but agreed because he knew something wasn’t right and so did I. I did not know what and could not have dreamed of what was about to happen but I knew he needed an answer.
So it was that we ended up in the waiting room much to the chagrin of the office staff. A physician’s assistant was ordered into the room to take a look at the man’s swollen forearm. He took one look, his face going white and he immediately dismissed himself. The doctor came rushing in, took one look and demanded the physician’s assistant release one of the stitches to assist the swelling/pressure in his arm. The physician’s assistant complied and as soon as he released one of the stitches it was like the rocky horror picture show in that treatment room. Blood was spurting out everywhere. The physician’s assistant jumped on the patient’s arm to stop the bleeding. Another doctor, an arterial specialist, ran into the room and ordered that the physician’s assistant take him down to the operating room stat. He went to scrub up.
The patient was rushed off to the operating room and the bleeding was controlled. But, the damage was done. I suspected, as did the patient, that the bleeding had been occurring since the recovery room. Instead of listening to the patient, the doctor dismissed his cries of pain and covered up his pain by ordering the nerve block. Within days, his arm had swollen badly from internal bleeding. He would not recover full use of his hand.
Medical mistakes and errors occur frequently. Secondary infections from hospital stays also occur frequently. Hospitals are not mandated to report medical mistakes and they are not mandated to report medical errors. It is only when the media, the people involved, and the physicians responsible are held accountable by the legal community, does awareness happen. It shouldn’t have to come to that and we should all feel safe when needing medical care.