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The CMG Voice

Medical Liability Premiums Continue To Go Down

Posted Wednesday, October 16, 2013 by Gene Moen

A recent article in a medical publication stated that malpractice insurance premiums for three representative specialties have gone down for the past two years, albeit by small amounts.

Malpractice Premiums Drop for 6th Straight Year

The reason, it seems likely, is that the number of malpractice lawsuits has decreased steadily over the past five years. Yet the national medical organizations as well as the insurance carriers continue to “cry wolf” and contend that doctors are being priced out of the malpractice insurance market because of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.

The real question that should be asked is “why are the number of malpractice lawsuits going down when there continue to be huge numbers of deaths from preventable medical errors?” See my earlier post on this here: Estimates of Annual Deaths From Medical Mistakes Grow Higher.

The answer to that question is simply that malpractice lawsuits are so expensive and risky that most attorneys cannot afford to take on a case with modest damages. Many people who suffer because of medical negligence find that the courthouse doors are effectively shut to them.

The high expenses associated with malpractice cases are the result of two factors: the willingness of malpractice insurance carriers to spend large amounts of money defending even meritorious claims, and the fact that almost all malpractice cases require expert testimony that is becoming increasingly expensive. It is not uncommon for experts in specialties such as neurosurgery or neuroradiology to charge up to $1,000 an hour or more and to require prepayment of $3-5,000 simply to agree to review a potential case. An attorney handling such cases on a contingent-fee basis not only faces the risk of not getting paid for her or his time if the case does not resolve favorably, but also absorbing the out-of-pocket costs of prosecuting the case if, as is common, the clients cannot afford to pay those costs.

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Questions About Robotic Surgery Grow

Posted Thursday, October 10, 2013 by Gene Moen

In the last several years, there has been a huge increase in the number of surgeries performed with robotic devices, usually manufactured by one company that has aggressively marketed them to doctors and hospitals. In a robotic surgery, the doctor sits at a console away from the patient and uses hand and foot controls to move the instruments inside a patient’s body. The doctor can see the anatomy through a video feed.

Although touted as a more precise way of performing many surgical procedures, studies have not shown a significant increase in good surgical outcomes. A major worry is that doctors and hospitals are pressured to buy and use the devices because patients demand it based of the extensive advertising done by the manufacturer. There are also issues related to training on the machines and the number of surgeries needed before a doctor becomes proficient in using them.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed over poor outcomes and deaths that have occurred when the robotic device is used, with some of the lawsuits naming the manufacturer based on the aggressive advertising and marketing that has been done.

Here is a link to a recent article about this:

Robot Surgery Damaging Patients Rises With Marketing

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A Black Box in Every Operating Room?

Posted Tuesday, October 8, 2013 by Gene Moen

Medical malpractice attorneys know that it is often very difficult to determine what went wrong in a surgical procedure. Unless someone witnessed exactly what happened and is willing to testify about it, or unless the outcome was so bad it is presumed to be the result of negligence (a res ipsa loquitur claim, such as leaving a surgical instrument in the patient), the reasons for a bad outcome are often never known to the patient or his/her attorney.

A Canadian surgeon has developed software that he says will measure and record every event during a surgical procedure, just like the “black box” in aircraft — and now in automobiles — can allow a reconstruction of exactly what happened in an accident. Whether this concept will be accepted by the medical community is less than clear, but it would be a potential way of developing ways to prevent surgical errors or mistakes.

Here is a link to the article:

A “Black Box” in Every OR?

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Family Files Lawsuit Against Swedish After Guidewire Is Left Inside Young Boy

Posted Thursday, September 12, 2013 by Tyler Goldberg-Hoss

The parents of a young child have filed a lawsuit against Swedish Medical Center, alleging that an employee doctor left a guidewire inside their boy after a routine procedure involving inserting a catheter in his leg to give him fluids and medication.

Typically surgeons and hospitals in which surgeries occur have checklists to make sure no sponges, tools, or other substances are left inside a patient. Still, such events still occur, and can cause patient/victims disastrous consequences. Hopefully, it sounds like the boy in this story is ok now, in spite of what he’s gone through.

You can watch the news report and read the article here:

Surgical wire left in Everett toddler prompts lawsuit

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More Evidence State Disciplinary Boards are not Protecting Patients

Posted Monday, September 9, 2013 by Gene Moen

A recent article in a medical publication outlined the outrageous case of a Texas neurosurgeon who killed and maimed patients for several years while other doctors begged the Texas medical disciplinary body to take action to lift his license.

Fatal Incompetence: Texas Surgeon Wreaked Havoc for Years

Such agencies do eventually take action, even if belated, when the medical care is so bad that other doctors complain about it. But what about the provider who is not in that small category, who nonetheless violates the standard of care and causes harm to patients?

Without the ability of a patient to bring a lawsuit to shine light on poor medical care, it is often swept under the rug. In one case brought by our firm, we were able to prove that a plastic surgeon’s lack of good care almost caused a patient’s death from hypoglycemia. The case information, including the deposition of the defendant doctor, was provided to the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission. The Commission then held a hearing at which the doctor’s license to practice was suspended for five years.

In another case, the information we uncovered about a plastic surgeon was used to restrict the doctor’s license. But in each of these cases, it is unlikely the state agency would have done anything without our having taken depositions that brought to light the negligence of the doctors.

The disciplinary agency is underfunded and understaffed, so it is not able to aggressively seek information about bad practices and the harm caused to patients. And when they do bring an action against the doctor, the attorneys from the Attorney General’s office are often not as experienced as the top national attorneys who are hired by the doctors to defend their licenses. That is why the depositions taken in a medical negligence case by the patient’s attorney are often the key to understanding the nature of the medical negligence and the harm it caused.

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