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Detroit Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Suing the federal government for medical error

Last time, we spoke about current efforts by the Department of Defense to expand a program aimed at increasing transparency between doctors and patients when a medical error occurs. Regardless of how helpful the program is in resolving disputes when medical errors occur, it is unlikely that any such program will completely eliminate the need for litigation.

Those who have been harmed by a military doctor are, as we pointed out, not able to pursue the doctor directly for medical negligence, but there is the possibility of seeking compensation for the negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The law constitutes the only way for those harmed by a government physician to seek compensation. 

Military seeks to expand program encouraging transparency after medical error

Transparency is somewhat of a buzzword right now in the health care industry when it comes to addressing the issue of medical errors. There is good reason for this. Not only can effective communication with patients about medical errors allow patients and their families to have a better experience of care, it can also potentially reduce the costs associated with medical care by reducing the incidence of medical malpractice litigation.

While the so-called Michigan Model has long been known in this state, the general approach of more transparency in the wake of medical error has picked up steam in other areas of the nation as well. The military is also aware of the benefits of the approach, and the Department of Defense is currently looking to expand a program begun in 2001 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to various other military medical facilities. 

Safety survey rates, ranks Michigan hospitals

Shopping for health care services is not something we are accustomed to doing as consumers, at least not in the way we do it with other goods and services. There are multiple reasons for this, including the fact that data pertaining to the quality of health care providers and facilities is not as readily available for consumers as similar data is for other consumer goods and services. Some organizations, such as The Leapfrog Group, are working to change that, particularly through its annual hospital safety survey.

According to the group’s most recent survey, 19 of the 80—or nearly 24 percent—Michigan hospitals that participated in the survey received the group’s highest safety grade. That puts Michigan hospitals at number 21 in terms of nationwide safety ranking. Of the other hospitals, 28 received a grade of B, 29 received a grade of C and one a grade of D. Three hospitals reportedly received the worst possible grade. 

Looking at the causes and costs of cerebral palsy, P.2

In our last post, we began speaking about the various potential causes of cerebral palsy, and particularly situations where progressive jaundice can result in cerebral palsy. Typically, of course, jaundice is manageable enough that high bilirubin can be brought back down in a reasonable period of time. In some cases, though, failure to adequately monitor jaundice can have bad results for an infant.

Recent research has suggested a more effective way to monitor jaundice in preterm infants by means of skin testing. Apparently, the research shows that bilirubin levels in the skin surrounding the chest and back areas of preterm infants is a fairly closely match to bilirubin levels in the blood. This opens up the possibility of long-term monitoring of jaundice by a method which painless for the infant.

Looking at the causes and costs of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy, as readers may know, is a condition involving abnormal brain development or damage to the brain which impacts a child’s ability to control his or her muscles. The condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is estimated to occur in one out of roughly 323 children.

The causes of cerebral palsy are not fully understood. The majority of cases of cerebral palsy occur due to brain damage before or during birth, but brain damage leading to cerebral palsy can also occur later on. Often, the exact cause of cerebral palsy is not identifiable, but there are certain risk factors that can be identified, including low birth weight, premature birth, multiple births, use of assisted reproductive technology, as well as infections during pregnancy, birth complications, and jaundice. Physicians have a duty to pay attention to these risk factors.

Medical guidelines and the importance of expert testimony

In our last post, we began speaking about medical guidelines and their potential usefulness for holding negligent physicians accountable for harm to their patients. As we noted, medical guidelines can serve as standards of care, but medical guidelines are not all the same.

Because medical guidelines are not uniform, the issue of standard of care is more complicated. When a patient is harmed, a patient who wishes to recover damages must be able to demonstrate that the physician responsible for their care failed to abide by an accepted standard of care. Variations in medical guidelines can leave room for disagreement about what exactly the standard of care is in any given scenario. 

Why medical guidelines are good for patients, but confusing

Medical science, as readers know, is not a perfected body of knowledge that cannot be improved upon. Rather, our knowledge of human biology and how to treat patients is continuing to improve. This is obviously a good thing for patients as the way health care professionals approach medical care is continually improving.

Another beneficial effect of continual improvement of our knowledge of medical science and effective medical care is that patients who are harmed have a basis for holding negligent doctors accountable for failing to abide by accepted standards of care. 

Health care system needs better monitoring, prevention of diagnostic errors

According to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, most Americans receive a wrong diagnosis at some point in their lives. Not every case of wrong diagnosis has serious consequences, of course, but in some cases diagnostic errors can have a significant impact. This is especially the case when diagnostic errors occur in connection with cancer and other potentially life-threatening illnesses.

The situation is likely to become worse, too, given the complexity of the health care system around diagnosis. Unfortunately, it is not easy to gather information on diagnostic errors, since they are typically noticed after the fact, whether in medical malpractice litigation or by means of an autopsy. Also, oftentimes diagnostic errors occur due to errors in the health care system, so it isn’t always possible to lay blame on one physician.

Suing a physician for errors in provision of free medical care, P.2

In our last post, we began speaking about protections at both the state and federal level which shield volunteer physicians from liability in the event of a mistake that injures a patient. We’ve already mentioned the Federal Volunteer Protection Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act, and Michigan’s Good Samaritan Law.

In addition, Michigan has a statute which protects licensed health care providers providing free serves at nonprofit clinics, and another statute specific to retired physicians and dentists. The latter protections are dependent on obtaining a special license. 

Suing a physician for errors in provision of free medical care, P.1

A recent article in the online journal, Medical Economics, focused on an issue that doesn’t come up too often in discussions of medical malpractice. That issue is the liability of physicians for errors in the course of volunteer work. What kind of liability do physicians open themselves up to when they engage in volunteer work, and what options for recovery are available to patients who are harmed by a negligent volunteer physicians?

In reality, medical malpractice suits against a volunteer physician or other health care professional are actually rather rare because of protections at the state and federal level. First of all, the Federal Volunteer Protection Act protects non-profit and government volunteers, including physicians and other health care workers, as long as the services provided were within the scope of the provider’s responsibility, the health care workers was authorized to engage in the services or care at issue, and he or she was properly licensed. As can be seen, there are some limitations on liability protection.