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Pittsburgh Personal Injury Law Blog

Erb’s palsy more common than Down syndrome

Just as every woman in Pittsburgh experiences pregnancy differently, each will have different delivery experiences. Even an easy pregnancy can turn into a difficult delivery. The size and position of the baby can make labor and delivery more complicated for the mother-to-be as well as the delivery doctors and nurses, and can sometimes lead to birth injuries. For instance, excessive pulling during a head first delivery or pressure put on the infant’s arms during a feet first delivery can cause injuries to the nerves that control the shoulder, arm, hand and spine—injuries known as Erb’s palsy.

Many people have never heard of Erb’s palsy, also referred to as brachial plexus injuries. Yet it is more common than Muscular Dystrophy or Down syndrome. It is estimated that Erb’s palsy occurs in as many as five out of every 1,000 births. Those who have been affected by the debilitating injury worked to raise awareness of Erb’s palsy recently during International Brachial Plexus Injury Awareness week. The most important thing to remember is that treating this injury quickly is essential to minimize the lasting effects. Patients will need to have the injuries assessed by a brachial plexus specialist immediately, who should inform them of the best treatment options and recommended treatment facilities.

Doctor failed to diagnose fatal illnesses, lied on applications

It seems like a safe assumption that if a doctor has passed the MCAT, completed both medical school and residencies and met the other licensing requirements that he or she is qualified to care for patients. Sadly, that is not always the case and patients may receive substandard care in Pittsburgh, PA or any other state in the U.S.

A doctor with a history of incompetence was recently convicted of fraud for lying about his qualifications on licensing and employment applications. He falsely stated that he earned his medical degree in four years, the amount of time it typically takes doctors, when it actually took him nine years. Upon receiving his degree, it took him another seven years to obtain his medical license. He practiced at different hospitals and medical centers in New York and Michigan until his license was finally revoked by the Health Department. During the few short months that the man practiced emergency room medicine at one hospital, complaints were filed regarding his performance; two of which were failure to diagnose fatal illnesses. He was also cited substandard treatment of an additional seven patients. At a New York hospital, the man was accused of gross negligence for his care of five patients. There, he also treated a 5-year-old who later died; a wrongful death suit is now pending in civil court. In the federal criminal justice system, he was sentenced to spend 2 years in prison for his fraudulent actions to obtain employment.

Worldwide study aims to diagnose brain injuries more accurately

Every brain injury is unique, making it difficult to diagnose accurately. Some symptoms appear immediately after the injury, but others aren’t noticeable for days or even weeks. Medical professionals participating in an international study are trying to find better ways to assess brain trauma and classify all of its variations.

Approximately 2 percent of the American population has a disability related to a traumatic brain injury. High profile cases involving professional athletes and war veterans have garnered nation attention, but the majority of brain injuries are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Researchers believe that better application of MRIs and biomarkers can help them more accurately diagnose brain injuries. The National Institute of Health has awarded more than $18 million dollars to 20 institutions in the United States to participate in the study. The University of Pittsburgh is one of those institutions and will play a large part in the U.S. portion of the study, which is being managed by the University of California, San Francisco. The worldwide study will also include 38 institutions and over 60 hospitals in Europe, as well as an undisclosed number of facilities in Canada. Researchers are expected to conclude their findings in five years.

Common surgical errors could be prevented for just $10, but aren’t

Whether your surgery is considered elective or an emergency, you should receive the highest level of care. Yet, no one is perfect—not doctors, nor nurses or anyone else in the Pittsburgh operating room. There is always a chance of human error.

Arguably the most common surgical errors are foreign objects such as sponges or surgical instruments that are left inside the patient. This is referred to as URFO in the industry, which is an acronym for “unintended retention of foreign objects.” What is appalling is that many URFO cases involving sponges are preventable, yet approximately 85 percent of hospitals in the United States do not employ the technology to do so. Rather than relying on the surgical team to count the number of sponges—which can be hundreds—both inserted and removed during a single surgery, a wand can be used to detect specially tagged sponges. This typically adds less than $10 to the cost of the surgery. Sponges left in patients can cause tremendous pain and suffering, as it did for a woman who required a six hour surgery to remove a sponge left in her body after a C-section that caused her bowels to stop working.

Differentiating between complications and medical errors

Patients in the greater Pittsburg area and around the nation have reason to be concerned about the safety of their healthcare and how to appropriate protect against medical errors. It only takes a minor oversight or surgeon mistake to cause severe and lasting repercussions. While the law allows people to seek compensation in the event that a medical error occurs, there are often disputes as to what truly is negligence.

Such is the topic of a recent article that asserts many medical malpractice claims are not appropriate. Rather, the article reports, risks are inherent in many medical situations whether effects from a medication, damage being incurred during a procedure or something else and that a person should not file a lawsuit simply because such a known risk came to fruition, especially when the possibility of it happening had been clearly communicated to them.

Common medical errors patients should watch for

Pennsylvania residents trust in the quality and effectiveness of their medical care every day. This is a basic right that all patients should be able to rely on. Sadly, medical errors whether they be surgical mistakes, medication errors, missed diagnoses or something else also happen every day, compromising the faith that the public has in the healthcare system.

A recent news report details some of the findings of some research by an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Hospital that has some shocking insight into the world of medical mistakes, highlighting the eight most common errors that the public may not be aware of. One of the primary problems it identifies is related to prescription medication errors. That could be a dosage mistake or the wrong drug altogether. Either way, the potential result could be serious injury or even death for a patient. The research indicates that such mistakes are hidden from patients in approximately 98 percent of cases.

Protecting yourself from medication errors while hospitalized

In today’s tough economic climate, employers expect their employees to do more with less. Hospitals in Pittsburgh, PA are no exception. For example, doctors are nurses are forced to care for more patients because tighter budgets have caused reductions in staff. Budget cuts can also prevent hospitals from making critical updates to their electronic health records. Things like this can lead to medication errors.

A study from John Hopkins reveals that 98 percent of the time medical professionals do not inform patients that a medication error has been made. This may because they are afraid of damaging their professional reputation, the threat of a medical malpractice suit or another factor. Regardless of the reason, dosage errors or administering an incorrect drug can be fatal. If you think you have been the victim of a medication error, ask to see your chart and look for notes such as “incident report,” “risk management,” or “near miss.” These phrases are often indicative of medical mistakes.

Mother wins lawsuit against hospital for daughter's birth injury

Occasionally, complications that arise during the delivery process can cause injuries, disfigurement or permanent disabilities. The baby’s size, position of the baby and a number of factors can lead to a difficult birth. Still, labor and delivery doctors are expected to adjust birthing plans as necessary in order to prevent birth injuries.

The mother of a 5-year-old girl who, despite multiple surgeries has to wear a brace on her deformed arm, claims that the delivery doctors at a Michigan hospital are to blame for the girls permanent disability. Her condition requires physical therapy and the girl continues to need help with everyday tasks. The jury sided with the mother’s claims and awarded her $12.9 million in damages; the award will probably be reduced to around $4 million because of a mandatory cap on non-economic damages and other factors. Still, it is a major victory for the family. According to the lawsuit, the baby’s arm became lodged on the pelvic bone and the nerves in the arm were torn when the doctors used too much force to try and dislodge the baby. The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the injury could have been prevented if doctors would have instead delivered the 8 pound 8 ounce baby via cesarean section. The hospital maintains that doctors followed proper protocol and the situation did not warrant an emergency cesarean section. A spokesman for the hospital suggested that the verdict will be appealed.

Report: Medical errors third leading cause of death in America

Medical mistakes are a serious public health concern. It can be difficult to measure the exact number of medical errors made each year because the patient may or may not realize that their condition was worsened because of misdiagnosis, medication errors, surgical errors, infections or other ailments caused by inadequate care. Healthcare providers may also be hesitant to report their own mistakes.

Heart disease, cancer, medical errors: these are the top three causes of death in America if the study regarding medical mistakes that was recently published in Journal of Patient Safety is correct. It reports that anywhere from 210,000 and 440,000 patients die each year from an adverse event that occurs while hospitalized. Adverse event is the terminology used in the medical community for preventable harm that patients suffer. Some experts dispute these estimates and claim that the numbers are much too high. They feel that the previous estimate of 98,000 from a study conducted in 1999 is much closer to the actual number of patients that die each year from medical errors. Yet, three different reputable researchers reviewed the data and say that the research methods are reliable and the findings are sound.

Pennsylvania veteran suffered because of failure to detect cancer

There are a number of prescription drugs and medical treatments that can ease one’s pain and suffering even when faced with a terminal disease. A doctor’s failure to diagnose cancer, however, can deprive a person of comfort and quality of life.

A Pennsylvania man whose cancer was not diagnosed until just five days before his death—despite seeing numerous doctors at VA medical facilities in Warren and Philadelphia—endured severe pain during the last few months of his life. He first visited a physician in mid-August, 2012 complaining of back pain. The diagnosis: possible liver cirrhosis. A number of tests were performed, including a CT scan that supported the cirrhosis diagnosis, but it also showed abnormal masses in the man’s upper abdomen. Follow up tests were ordered to determine what the masses were, but were never performed. In late August, the man’s pain increased to the point where he became immobile. In early September, he was treated in a VA medical center where he underwent more tests and fluid was drained from his abdomen. He was discharged a few days later and told to seek follow-up care at a VA clinic in Pittsburgh. The referral form was not coded as urgent, however, delayed treatment. By the end of September, the man had lost 45 pounds and his condition deteriorated. On October 1, more fluid was drained from his abdomen and was sent home again. His pain intensified later that day so he sought medical help at the hospital where physicians finally discovered cancerous lesions.

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