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Kansas City, Missouri Medical Malpractice Blog

Status of medical malpractice tort reform in Missouri

other. This seems to be happening right now, not just in Missouri, but all across the country. The two issues that could be said to be in the ring are the national furor over Ebola in the U.S. and the political fights being waged over tort reform. In the latter corner, to cap or not to cap punitive awards is the big question.

Concern about Ebola is certainly understandable. While only one person in the U.S. has died of the disease, it has claimed thousands of lives in West Africa. The medical community knows how to treat patients with Ebola to give them a fighting chance at recovery, but there is no cure. 

At times filing suit isn't just possible, but necessary

Early last month, the world lost a noted entertainer. Joan Rivers died. She was 81. Since then, there have been loads of questions about what exactly happened and whether medical error might have had something to do with the comedienne's death.

What's known for sure is that Rivers went into a Manhattan clinic at the end of August for a routine throat procedure that required some anesthesia. During the visit, she went into cardiac arrest and slipped into unconsciousness. She was taken to the hospital, but never woke up. She died a week later.

On Oct. 16, The New York Times reported that the medical examiner's office had ruled that Rivers died from what amounted to brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. She had stopped breathing during the throat exam. The official language of the report said that the death was a "predictable complication of medical therapy."

What are the risks to mom and baby from vacuum extraction?

Not all births go the way they are supposed to. Sometimes a baby presents in the breech position, feet or bottom first. Sometimes the baby's head is a little too large for the mother's birth canal.

These may be instances in which the professional handling the delivery decides that the process needs an operative assist -- that is, either the use of forceps or vacuum extraction is needed. 

According to data available from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, these types of procedures are done in about 5 percent of all deliveries in the U.S. And while most go alright, they are not without risk to both the mother and to the child. If the provider fails to exercise due care, it can result in a variety of serious injuries or permanent disabilities.

Complex processes should not scuttle valid wrongful death claims

Just exactly how many people die as a result of mistakes in the hospital? It's a heard figure to put your finger on. It seems to change every year -- and not for the better.

Back in 1999, the non-profit, non-government Institute of Medicine estimated that nearly 100,000 people were dying every year because of preventable errors in hospitals. In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services pegged the rate due to medical mistakes at 180,000. And last year, a study in the Journal of Patient Safety suggested that the death rate could be as high as 440,000.

Whatever the actual number may be, the one certain conclusion that can be drawn is that it is too high. Remember, these deaths are considered to be the result of preventable adverse events -- mistakes that should never have happened in the first place. 

Belcher's brain validates concern over repeated sports traumas

A lot of the possible effects of brain trauma are known. When injuries are obvious, such as the type of traumatic brain damage that can result from a car or work accident, medical malpractice or a serious sports injury, victims can suffer a loss of physical ability. Mental and behavioral issues are not uncommon, either, and typically are watched for.

Some brain injuries, however, are less obvious. They may even go completely undetected. It may be only after the person has died and an autopsy performed that the evidence of the damage can be confirmed.

Even if the damage that was done might be attributable to the suspected negligence of someone else, many might decide after a victim's death that it's too late to seek compensation from the responsible party. Such a decision, though, should not be made before consulting with an experienced attorney. 

Is rarity of mesothelioma an excuse for failures to diagnose?

We don't hear much about mesothelioma or those lives that are claimed by it. That's not too surprising. It is a rare form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 3,000 new cases are recorded every year in the United States.

How many of those cases might be being identified in Missouri and Kansas isn't easy to discern, but there's a possibility that the disease is more prevalent than the statistics suggest. As the ACS website notes, mesothelioma is so uncommon that many doctors have no experience spotting it. And, as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. 

Fostering right culture can avoid preventable nursing errors

In the course of recovering from a major medical event in the hospital, a patient may receive care from a large team of medical professionals. There are the doctors, of course. But nurses and nursing assistants, therapists and pharmacists all have a hand in the outcome.

An added factor in the delivery of care is that on a given ward, the nursing staff may be dealing with a lot of patients. And the conditions of those patients can vary greatly, depending on what stage of recovery or treatment they may be in. Multiple demands may crop up suddenly and as we noted in an article not long ago, when nurses are pressed to multi-task, risks of errors increase.

How often do surgeons mistakenly leave something behind?

If a mechanic leaves a rag in the works of your vehicle's motor, chances are you'd find out about it before you got it out on the road where something dangerous could happen. Unfortunately, the same can't always be said if a surgeon leaves something behind in your body during an operation.

Doctors might not like being compared to auto mechanics, and perhaps they have a point. If a surgeon makes the medical mistake of leaving something inside your body, the repercussions are potentially more troublesome. The very least that may happen is that you'll suffer an infection that requires more treatment. The worst case scenario is that you might die due to complications.

Man sues hospital for failed diagnosis and false ads

Having to go to the hospital is not something people look forward to. It typically is done with a doctor's direction and with some forethought as to what the problem is and what treatment will be delivered. If the problem that you're experiencing is an emergency, chances are you don't even give a lot of thought about what hospital you go to. You want the one that's closest.

But in recent years, hospitals in some markets have taken to advertising their ER services with an eye toward increasing their profits from that particular area of practice. The prevalence of such advertising varies by state. Where it is used, as one might expect, the ads often include language touting top quality care. 

Wrongful death case highlights issue of cognitive bias

As much as we might want eliminate every risk of a deadly mistake being made in the delivery of medical care or the performance of a surgical operation, the fact is that medical professionals are only human.  

That does not mean that we can't and shouldn't do all we can to create systems aimed at reducing the chance of errors due to carelessness. Indeed, it is through such systems that patients in Missouri can be assured that hospitals and the medical professionals they employ are doing all they can for patient safety. And then, when mistakes are made, it should be easier to hold those who are responsible accountable for the serious injury or wrongful death that occurs.