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Pittsburgh Personal Injury Law Blog

iPad app being tested in area school to better manage concussions

In a recent post we touched on the importance of young athletes being treated and diagnosed properly when they suffer a concussion while participating in sports programs. If medical professionals clear them to play before they are physically ready or the level of their injuries are misdiagnosed, it can cause even more serious brain trauma and neurological problems. Now, a pilot program involving five Pennsylvania school districts will use concussion diagnostic tool on the iPad to help track symptoms and make accurate diagnosis.

When a player is suspected of suffering a concussion, the app will allow that individual’s symptoms and other data to be uploaded to a cloud where doctors can access the information. This will allow them to better determine the necessary recovery time. It will also help them manage brain injuries better because the lasting effects vary greatly from one person to the next. In the past, sideline tests have been purely cognitive. This diagnostic tool will include a variety of tests to assess how the injury has impacted one’s balance, vision and reflexes. Having all of this information immediately accessible to doctors in Pennsylvania will be very beneficial.

Infant needs liver transplant after nurse's Tylenol dosage mistake

Few things are more heart wrenching for a parent than seeing the health of their infant deteriorate. They trust medical professionals to help their child get better. But no one is infallible; even the most experienced doctors and nurses can make medication errors and dosage mistakes.

A Louisiana couple learned this the hard way after watching their infant’s condition worsen—from a minor fever and cold to a condition requiring a liver transplant—because they received dosage instructions for the wrong type of Tylenol. Nurses at the hospital instructed the mother to give the infant one teaspoon of Tylenol every four hours. What the mother didn’t know, however, was that the instructions were for Children’s Tylenol rather than Infant’s Tylenol because the instructions did not specify a type. The latter is actually more concentrated than the former. It was impossible for the mother to verify the dosage because the manufacturer does not have instructions on the packaging for children under two, per the FDAs regulations. The manufacturer is aware that many people do not know the difference between the two concentrations but do not feel that they need to combine the products to a single concentrated formula.

Misuse of technology can lead to medication errors in Pennsylvania

Technology has revolutionized the healthcare industry. It has made hospitals run more efficiently and enabled physicians to perform intricate surgeries that were once considered impossible. Technology can be a double-edged sword, however. If not used properly it can cause a variety of problems, including medication errors.

On the heels of a warning issued by the U.S. Patient Safety Authority regarding the use of electronic health records (EHRs), the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority has also issued a warning of their own to healthcare professionals related to EHRs and computerized physician order entry (CPOE). The watchdog organization reviewed more than 300 adversarial incidents related to the two technology systems. They discovered that a number of medication errors—wrong dosage times, incorrect dosages, outdated dosage values and overdoses—were made when healthcare providers used the default settings on the systems rather than customizing them accordingly. Only four of the incidents cased harm to patients, and only two patients were admitted to the hospital as a result. The medication errors were not always caused by a negligent physician, but sometimes the inability of healthcare professionals to override default values in the systems.

Improper equipment sterilization exposes patients to rare disease

Every time a patient undergoes surgery, there is a risk for infection. While the risk is typically low, ranging anywhere from a one to three percent chance according to some reports—the risk is still there. The best way to prevent infection from surgical procedures in Pennsylvania is for medical professionals to properly clean and sterilize surgical equipment after each use; they could be subject to a medical malpractice suit if they fail to do so.

Most medical equipment can be sterilized using heat, but heat alone will not kill the proteins that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal brain disease. Instead, a chemical such as sodium hydroxide must be used to disinfect any surgical equipment that comes in contact with infected tissues. Five patients who underwent spinal cord surgery at a Massachusetts hospital were recently exposed to this fatal brain disease. The patients are being monitored for symptoms of the disease but there is no way to definitively diagnose if they have the disease while alive; it can only be confirmed by an autopsy. Specialized medical equipment that was not sterilized properly was used on all five patients. The same equipment was used during an operation on a patient in New Hampshire who since died and is believed to have had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Autopsy results on that patient are not yet available.

Mother of child with cerebral palsy wins birth injury case

Expectant mothers usually take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of their unborn children. Sadly, not every parent in Pennsylvania gets take home a healthy child after delivery. Some babies suffer from unpreventable genetic conditions in utero. Other times, complications during delivery or the actions of a negligent doctor can lead to birth injuries or permanent disabilities.

A New Jersey woman recently won a lawsuit against her delivery doctor for this reason. The jury awarded her $4 million dollars, but she may not be able to collect more than $1 million—the limit on the doctors liability insurance policy. The jury believed that there was enough evidence to support the woman’s claim that the doctor should have performed a C-section to deliver the baby. The size of the baby before birth, 10 pounds according to an ultrasound, was one consideration. The fact that the woman’s labor stalled after close to eight hours was another consideration and should have alerted the doctor to the fact that a vaginal delivery was not the safest option, according to expert testimony offered at the trial. The doctor claims that despite the complication, the woman was still treated according to the standard of care. Even when the woman was too tired to push any longer, the doctor continued with vaginal birth using forceps. The child’s shoulder became lodged in the pelvis and was deprived of oxygen, which allegedly caused neurological injuries and cerebral palsy. The woman also sustained injuries during childbirth, leaving her incontinent and unable to work since the delivery.

Lawsuit alleges biopsy could have prevented misdiagnosed cancer

Every day, physicians in Pennsylvania and every other state are trusted by patients to decide what tests are necessarily to make an accurate cancer diagnosis. They have to weigh the time and expense of medical tests with the probability of accurately diagnosing their patients without those tests. If they make the wrong decision, failure to diagnose cancer can have devastating effects for everyone involved.

A New Jersey woman believes that just one more test would have revealed that she did, in fact, have cancer and could have prevented the spread of disease from her breast to her lungs. Medical experts have presented conflicting testimony during the court proceedings for a lawsuit filed by the woman and her husband as to whether or not a biopsy should have been ordered. The woman’s attorney argues that it should have been based on the woman’s family medical history. Instead, after reading MRI results, doctors told the woman they thought the spot was just a lymph node and to schedule a follow-up appointment in 6 months—despite the fact that the woman’s mother died from breast cancer. The multi-million dollar lawsuit, which is currently being heard by a jury, is seeking compensation for future medical expenses and lost wages. The jury could also award other damages if they see fit. They are expected to return a verdict in about a week.

Using technology to prevent medication errors in Pittsburgh

In a recent post, we wrote about a girl who allegedly died because her prescription painkiller was not properly diluted at the pharmacy. Tragically, errors like this occur more often than we would like to think. Sometimes it may be because of a dosage error made at the pharmacy as in this case, but there are other things that can lead to fatal medication errors as well—including mistakes made by doctors in Pittsburgh.

If patients have a choice in medical providers, they can drastically reduce their chances of becoming a victim of a medication error by choosing a facility that use a CPOE system. CPOE—short for Certified Physician Order Entry—allows doctors or others who are authorized to write prescriptions to enter the orders into a database that houses all pertinent information on patients. Things such as medication allergies, lab values and the patient’s clinical condition are all listed in the database which is supposed to alert physicians to a dangerous combination of prescriptions or potential allergic reactions. Research has shown hospitals that utilize CPOE reduce the occurrence of medication errors by approximately 85 percent. The system only works to prevent problems, however, if hospitals are willing to invest in the technology (many are not) and the hospital staff follows proper protocol when using the system.

Lawsuit seeks medical fund for former collegiate players

There have been a lot of reports recently surrounding the effects of head injuries suffered by NFL players. Most people now know that repeated collisions and tackles can cause severe concussions, which can lead to permanent disabilities later in life. This is something that medical professionals have known for quite some time. Another high profile class action lawsuit—this time involving three former college football players—alleges that they are enduring the debilitating effects of brain trauma that could have been prevented by the NCAA.

In the lawsuit, the three claim that they each received head trauma on numerous occasions while playing collegiate football. They now suffer from intense headaches, poor memory, ear ringing and sleep difficulties. They feel that the NCAA was negligent for decades and did not protect them while they participated in football programs at different institutions. They lawsuit also claims that the NCAA did not educate its players regarding the risks associated with concussions, nor did they properly diagnose and treat the players’ brain injuries. The three former players hope that the lawsuit will establish a fund for medical testing and monitoring of former collegiate football players.

Pennsylvania man receives rare award in medical malpractice suit

Any type of medical procedure comes with risks. Yet, a certain standard of care is still expected from medical professionals. When a person seeks and in-office treatment from a physician, it is not unreasonable to assume that he or she will leave in better condition than upon arrival. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

A Pennsylvania man claimed that he suffered permanent nerve damage from a surgical mistake made during a simply in-office procedure to remove a cyst in his neck. In the days and weeks after the procedure, the man lost strength and mobility in his arm and shoulder. An orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon agreed that the man’s problems were caused by a cut to the spinal accessory nerve. The doctor who had performed the cyst removal had caused irreparable damage by making too deep of an incision. The victim sued the doctor for medical malpractice and was recently awarded $4 million by a jury for enduring past, present and future challenges as a result of the permanent injury. The verdict is one of only a handful that has been handed down in favor of the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case in Montgomery County over the past few years.

Better checklists and communication could prevent surgical errors

We frequently hear stories about patients who have the wrong leg amputated or a surgical instrument left inside their bodies. It may seem like these things happen more often than they actually do because the media tends to sensationalize them. Nonetheless, surgical errors still happen in Philadelphia and can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life. Instead of feeling better after a surgical procedure, the patient suffers from more pain, a worsened condition or organ damage.

Two recent examples of astonishing wrong-site surgeries underscore the importance of surgeons and all of the other medical professionals in the operating room following proper protocol. It was determined that the policies in place at the California hospital where a surgeon removed the right kidney of a cancer patient instead of the left were satisfactory, but the staff's compliance with the policies was not. The error wasn’t even discovered until after the surgery when the pathology report was examined. The other incident occurred in a Florida hospital where the surgeon operated on the wrong leg. Despite the fact that one of the nurses realized the error and told the surgeon, he still completed the vascular procedure on the wrong leg and then operated on the correct leg. After surgery, the surgeon claimed that the patient needed surgery on both legs anyway.

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