Medical Negligence in Hospitals - A Summary of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services Report

Author: Charlottesville Personal Injury Lawyer John G. "Jack" Berry

An estimated 13.5 percent of all Medicare patients in hospitals nationwide experienced "adverse events" during their hospital stays, according to statistics compiled by the Inspector General.[1]  While some adverse events do not involve hospital mistakes, among the most common preventable adverse events are surgical errors, instances of patient infection, and errors in the choices and dosages of medicines administered to patients.  Estimates of the unnecessary treatment costs run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

While trial lawyers are sometimes blamed for focusing on statistics like those contained in the Inspector General's report, medical errors have long been the subject of study within the medical profession itself as a part of its obvious and commendable desire to improve the quality of patient care.  One seemingly simple, but apparently controversial, solution has been the subject of study by Peter Pronovost, a critical-care specialist at one of this country's preeminent medical facilities, Johns Hopkins University Hospital.  Pronovost developed a precise protocol to prevent line infections (those arising from the insertion and removal of various tubes and lines into a patient's body), a leading "adverse event" often adding to hospital stays and leading to a startling number of deaths.  By implementing a simple checklist, much like airline pilots use in commercial aviation, and requiring attention to it by hospital administrators, doctors and nurses alike, medical facilities where Pronovost's protocol has been put in place have seen a remarkable decrease in line infections.  In one hospital monitored by Pronovost and his colleagues, they calculated that in a fifteen-month period, the checklist prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, while saving two million dollars in costs that would have been incurred if the previous number of "adverse events" (infections) had occurred.[2]

The approach recommended by Pronovost has its share of critics and naysayers, but its validity is increasingly difficult to challenge.  Saving lives and preventing unnecessary illness and death have always been goals of the medical profession in the United States. However, increased and unnecessary costs resulting from medical errors are also garnering attention.  Every health care consumer should become educated about this subject, which is increasingly a topic in the press.  The health of each of us and our families will depend on it. [3]

About the Author: Jack Berry is the managing partner of Allen & Allen's Charlottesville, VA office. He has practiced law as a trial attorney in Central Virginia for almost 30 years. He is dedicated to protecting the rights of his clients in all areas of personal injury law including medical malpractice, car accidents, truck accidents, products liability, wrongful death and brain injury cases. He was born in Charlottesville and raised in Madison County, Virginia.

[1] http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-06-09-00090.pdf. A recent report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services contained information that should cause concern to every citizen in the United States.
[2] The New Yorker, Annals of Medicine, The Checklist, Atul Gawande, December 10, 2007
[3] See, for example,  the February 12, 2012 issue of the Washingtonian magazine, for an article on the subject with a list of good suggestions on what consumers can do, and a very important book on the subject entitled The Checklist Manifesto:  How to Get Things Right, by Dr. Atul Gawande, another authority on the subject.
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