Recently, New York Times journalist Robert Pear published an article on the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). According to Mr. Pear’s article, in November or December of 2016 you may be selected to join the Precision Medicine cohort, a long-term population-based health research study that will provide valuable research on disease and illness in the United States.

Government scientists are seeking a million volunteers willing to share information on their genetic background, environment, and lifestyle choices.  The PMI hopes to collect ten (10) years of data related to diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, sleep patterns, and other social behavior that will permit researchers to identify possible risk factors for health, including from air pollution and lead levels in drinking water.

Continue Reading The Precision Medicine Initiative

For those unaware, government immunity is the doctrine that provides federal, state, and local governments with immunity against certain legal claims arising out of torts committed by a government employee, official, or agent. The doctrine comes from English law, which held that the crown could do no wrong. What this means today in Pennsylvania, in practical terms, is that in order to sue the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, your case must fall into one of several exceptions to government immunity.

One of the exceptions to government immunity is the motor vehicle exception, which seeks to hold the government responsible for motor vehicle accidents caused by government employees acting in the scope of their employment as a government employee. The motor vehicle exception to government immunity essentially waives immunity where the negligent act that caused the plaintiff’s injuries involves the movement and operation of the government owned or controlled vehicle or its parts.

Continue Reading The Motor Vehicle Exception to Government Immunity in Pennsylvania

You may not be aware, but medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., only surpassed by heart disease and cancer. Recently, the Huffington Post published an article which outlined some general steps that you can take to prevent becoming a victim of medical malpractice. Some of these recommendations include:

Continue Reading 6 Steps You Can Take in an Effort to Prevent Becoming a Victim of Malpractice

In a recent New York Times article, Dhruv Khullar, M.D., a medical resident in a large Boston teaching hospital, wrote about what often happens when a patient, especially an elderly patient, is discharged from the hospital. All too frequently, there is a high chance of readmission for many of these patients. Dr. Khullar notes that one-fifth of Medicare recipients are readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge, and one-third are readmitted within 90 days.

One study found that 20% of patients have a complication within 3 weeks of leaving the hospital and that half of those complications could have been prevented or mitigated. Although many of these complications are minor, some are serious and life-threatening. Medicare spends $26 billion annually on readmissions, and more than half of that amount on readmissions that are considered preventable.

Continue Reading The Danger in Discharge from a Hospital

A NY Times article published on January 29, 2016 addressed the increasingly problematic issue of drug shortages. According to the article authored by Sheri Fink, in recent years, shortages of all sorts of drugs “have become the new normal in American medicine.” Ms. Fink notes that The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists currently lists inadequate supplies of more than 150 drugs and therapeutics. The reasons for the shortages are varied: there may be manufacturing shortages, federal safety crackdowns, or the abandonment by pharmaceutical companies of low-profit products. Although pharmacists and physicians are acutely aware of the problem, the public is not.

The article observes that there are no satisfactory nationwide guidelines to determine who does and does not receive drugs, and what the pecking order is for distribution of scarce drugs to patients who need them. Pharmaceutical companies often sell their products to healthcare providers—doctors, hospitals, and other institutions—on a first come, first served basis, leaving the final decision of who gets what up to the doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals themselves.

Continue Reading Drug Shortages are Forcing Treatments to be Rationed

The Journal of Patient Safety discussed recent studies which have shown that preventable medical errors are responsible for between 200,000 and 400,000 patient deaths per year in U.S. hospitals. These errors include facility acquired infections, medication errors, omissions in treatment, communication errors between health care providers, nerve or vessel injuries, wrong operations, injuries to organs during surgical procedures, blood clots, diagnostic errors, and wound infections. The number of deaths caused by medical errors committed in a hospital, but which occur after a patient is discharged from a hospital, is equally large.

The cost of deaths due to preventable medical errors is obviously staggering in terms of the emotional loss felt by the family members and loved ones of those who have needlessly died, but the financial loss is shocking as well. By some estimates, medical errors cost the United States between $15 and 19 billion per year in additional medical costs including ancillary services, prescription drug services, and in-patient and out-patient care.

Interestingly, one study found that patients reported 3 times as many preventable adverse events than were indicated in their records. This study also found that physicians often refuse to report serious adverse events, with cardiologists being the highest of the non-reporting physician groups.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it is recommended that you speak with experience legal counsel immediately to discuss your situation.

Since 2008, Medicare has refused to reimburse hospitals for the cost of treating patients who suffer avoidable medical complications. Although technically Medicare can actually expel a hospital with high rates of errors from the Medicare program, this is very rarely done.

However, in 2015, the federal government did cut payments to 721 hospitals which possessed documented high rates of infections and other patient injuries in the previous year. Among the 721 institutions were 2 frequently used by patients in Eastern Pennsylvania – the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and Geisinger Medical Center in Dansville, Pennsylvania.

Hospital acquired conditions, or HACs, include infections, blood clots, bed sores, and other complications which are considered avoidable. The penalties levied on the 721 hospitals are estimated to be in excess of $300 million. In 2013, approximately 1 in 8 admissions to a hospital included an HAC. Populations at highest risk are the very young and the very old, as well as those who have chronic diseases which would place them at a higher likelihood of developing an HAC.

Continue Reading Government Cracks Down on Hospitals with High Rates of Complications

In 1991, corporate negligence was recognized as a cause of action by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of Thompson v. Nason Hospital. Corporate negligence is a doctrine under which a hospital is liable if it fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed a patient. This “standard of care” ensures a patient’s safety and well-being while hospitalized.

The theory of a hospital’s liability is to create a non-delegable duty with which the hospital owes directly to a patient. In other words, an injured party does not have to establish the negligence of a healthcare professional in the employ of the hospital in order to bring forth a claim of corporate negligence. Vicarious liability is the cause of action for a claim wherein the injured party alleges negligence on the part of the hospital’s employee or agent, such as a physician, nurse, therapist, etc.

The hospital’s non-delegable duties, in the context of a corporate negligence claim, are classified into four general areas: a duty to use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment; a duty to select and retain only competent physicians; a duty to oversee all persons who practice medicine in the hospital; and a duty to formulate, adopt, and enforce adequate and appropriate rules, policies, and procedures to ensure quality care for the patients.

In Thompson, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reasoned that a corporate negligence claim was needed for hospitals “in full recognition of the corporate hospital’s role in the total health care of its patients.” Both vicarious liability and corporate negligence claims may be brought against a hospital in a medical malpractice lawsuit. In addition, specific claims may be brought against individual healthcare professionals who cared for the patient while in the hospital.

If you or your family suffered personal injury, it is strongly recommended that you seek experience counsel immediately.

In a medical malpractice case, the injured patient, otherwise referred to as the plaintiff, must first establish that a healthcare provider owed a legal duty to the patient. All healthcare providers, whether they are physicians, nurses, therapists, etc., owe a duty of care to the patient.

The plaintiff must also establish what the appropriate level of care was under the circumstances. Failure to meet this appropriate level of care is ultimately what leads to the healthcare provider’s alleged medical negligence.

The first step in proving that a healthcare provider owed a legal duty of care to a patient is to demonstrate that there was a relationship between the healthcare provider and the patient at the time the alleged malpractice occurred. The relationship is one that is voluntary and entered into by mutual agreement. Typically, the way to support the finding that the healthcare provider-patient relationship existed at the time of the malpractice is with evidence from the patient’s medical records.

Additionally, testimony can be used to prove this relationship, by showing that the patient chose to be treated by the particular healthcare provider; that the patient submitted to examinations for the purpose of treatment of a certain health problem or condition; and that the treatment by the healthcare provider was ongoing.

A healthcare provider must prove that they used the degree of care and skill of the average healthcare provider with a similar specialty practice, taking into account the medical knowledge that is available to the provider at the time the alleged malpractice took place. For example, for a physician, the standard of care is based on what the average physician, who practices in that area of medicine (orthopedics, gynecology, etc), would customarily or typically do in similar circumstances. The standard of care is the first element of a medical malpractice claim.

If you or your family believes to have experienced medical malpractice, please consult experienced counsel immediately.