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Pittsburgh Personal Injury Law Blog

Teaching Methods changed to prevent more medical misdiagnosis

In a past post, we discussed how better patient-doctor communication in Pittsburgh can help prevent misdiagnosed cancer and other serious ailments. For instance, patients are encouraged to ask physicians why they arrived at a particular diagnosis and also if there is a possibility that the problem could be something else. Doctors are also being trained to better assess situations and complete more thorough exams.

Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosing a potentially life-threatening disease has led to a paradigm shift in medical schools. Doctors are being taught how biases can lead to diagnostic errors, causing them to hone in on one certain diagnosis without considering other possibilities. For example, instead of determining that a woman with psychiatric problems and shortness of breath was simply having a panic attack, doctors should have considered the patient’s medical history as a whole. In this case the woman was also taking birth control pills and was a smoker. Her shortness of breath was actually caused by a blood clot in her lung and ultimately led to her death. Delayed or misdiagnosed problems such as these are fatal 14 percent of the time. Even if a patient doesn’t die, he or she suffers serious permanent damage in 19 percent of misdiagnosed cases and very serious harm in 16 percent of cases. Technology is also being used to prevent more medical errors; health care companies are mining the data from electronic health records to identify missed signals and reverse engineer programs to remedy the problem.

Widower seeks $300,000 in wrongful death lawsuit

No one deserves to get cancer; but everyone deserves a chance to fight the deadly disease when it invades their body. Unfortunately, not everyone gets that opportunity. While the exact survival statistics vary greatly based on what type of cancer a person has, one thing is constant: the sooner cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival. A doctor’s delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose cancer is essentially a death sentence.

An Illinois mother of three who died from lung cancer in early 2012 was denied the opportunity to fight the disease because medical professionals failed to diagnose her condition, her husband alleges. He claims that medical professionals did not read the images of the woman’s chest correctly and she died as a result. He has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf, seeking damages over $300,000 for the family’s emotional distress and suffering. The hospital and radiology practice as well as specific doctors are named in the suit for their negligence.

Driver didn't think she would hit pedestrian while turning

When something happens while driving, many people instinctively make an excuse. When a driver hits a motorcyclist, he or she may say "I didn't see him!" When one driver turns left in front of another driver going straight, he or she may say, "I thought I could make the turn!" The excuses are normal, but that doesn't mean that they are acceptable. Drivers can give all the excuses they want, but when their negligence causes an accident, they can be held responsible.

Unfortunately, a recent pedestrian accident in Ellwood City has created a new excuse: the driver thought she wouldn't hit the pedestrian when turning at the intersection. It is not entirely clear what the details of the accident were or how the driver thought she could avoid the elderly pedestrian, but the driver misjudged the turn, striking the woman and killing her.

Failure to medicate and other deadly medication errors common

Most of the news stories about medication errors are focused on patients receiving too much of a particular prescription drug. This frequently occurs in hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies. In some cases, however, not receiving a medication as prescribed can cause permanent disabilities or possibly even death. Our readers in Pittsburgh may be surprised to learn just how common such medication errors are.

At a healthcare facility in Michigan, a patient lost vision in her left eye because the medical professionals who were supposed to be caring for her failed to give her eye drops for four days. At another facility, nurses did not give an 85-year-old woman prescription antibiotics. The woman died from a urinary tract infection.

Landmark Dram Shop Verdict in Allegheny County

An Allegheny County jury this afternoon returned one of the largest civil verdicts in the history of Allegheny County in a case involving a drunk driver who was served alcohol at a local Elks club. The award of more than $28 million against the Elks Club Lodge No. 11 of Pittsburgh will grow to more than $30 million with interest.

4 injured, 3 killed in wrong-way accident in Mercer County

It is an absolute tragedy when someone is killed in a car accident, especially if the accident could have been prevented. Fatal car accidents affect more than just the person who was killed, but his or her family, friends and the community, too. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why family members choose to file wrongful death lawsuits after the loss of a loved one. When it is clear that someone else's negligence has caused a death, that person (or his or her estate) can be held responsible for the fatal crash.

As of now, there is no word on whether the family members of a 17-year-old and a 50-year-old, both killed when another 17-year-old drifted into oncoming traffic and caused a head-on collision, will file wrongful death lawsuits. As the Mercer County accident is investigated by Sharon Police, the two families may try to hold liable the high school senior who was driving.

Number of adverse events linked to robotic surgeries on the rise

Robotic surgery is often touted as a better alternative to traditional surgery, giving doctors greater visibility and precision which translates to smaller incisions and less pain and discomfort for patients. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Surgical errors still occur when a physician uses a robotic devise to perform various procedures.

Aggressive marketing by the manufacturer of robotic surgery devices has led to an increase in the demand, as medical professionals are trying to gain any type of advantage they can over competitors. While training on the devices is available for the surgeons who use them, it is not mandatory. Two urologists went on record in an FDA report, stating that there was a direct correlation between patient safety and surgeons’ training on the robotic devices. Incident reports released by the FDA suggest that the number of adverse events from robot-assisted surgery is on the rise. Some of the problems associated with robotic surgeries include temporary nerve damage, reversible limb palsy, bowl perforation and loss of peripheral vision. Fatalities can also occur. As of November 3 of this year, 3,697 adverse events were reported; only 1,595 were reported during the entire year of 2012. Not all incidents are necessarily a direct result of inexperience, however. Many surgeons have reported having problems with the robotic arms, and only a few knew that there have been recalls associated with the robot.

Birth injury lawsuit settled, family awarded $7.5 million

It is reasonable to expect that when you go to the hospital in Pittsburgh or anywhere else seeking medical help, you will get the attention that you need. Yet, that is not always the case. Medical professionals are often rushed or simply don’t comprehend the severity of a situation and discharge a patient without a proper diagnosis.

One mother’s life was forever changed after her uterus ruptured and her infant son suffered from a birth injury. The child was deprived of oxygen during labor and the delivery process and now has brain damage as a result. A lawsuit against the Los Angeles hospital where the woman gave birth alleged that the injury was preventable if proper attention had been paid by the hospital staff. She went to the county run hospital complaining of severe abdominal pain. A medical resident discharged the 39-weeks-pregnant woman, without her ever being evaluated by an attending physician. Twelve hours later, she returned to the hospital where she had an emergency Cesarean section. The lawsuit was recently settled for $7.5 million, allowing the mother to pay for medical costs, buy a home and move the child—who is now 18-months old—out of the care facility where he has been staying.

Study reveals effect of sleep deprivation on surgeons

Over the years, there has been a lot of research done on the effects of sleep deprivation. It has been shown to slow down reflexes, impair judgment and cause a person to be more forgetful. The question regarding sleep deprivation that researchers set out to answer this time around: “Are surgeons more likely to make surgical errors when they don’t get a full night’s rest?”

You might be surprised to learn that the answer is “no.” Sleep deprivation tends to affect mundane tasks the most. Surgery does not fall into this category; no two surgeries are alike. According to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association doctors who performed gallbladder surgery—the most common surgery that general surgeons perform and, therefore, the closest to being considered mundane—after being on call or performing emergency surgery overnight were no more likely to make a mistake than those who got a full night’s sleep. The error percentage was essentially nonexistent—less than one percent. A possible theory behind the results of the study is that most surgeons know when they are too tired perform a surgery and will reschedule it.

Better communication can prevent potential misdiagnosis

The five conditions that are most frequently misdiagnosed or diagnosed late are cancer, heart failure, pneumonia, kidney failure and UTIs. Even the best doctors in Pittsburgh are sometimes guilty of misdiagnosed cancer or a delay in diagnosis that leads to a worsened condition. While the burden of obtaining an accurate diagnosis should not rest on the patient, enhancing doctor-patient communication can prevent such problems.

Make sure that enough time is allowed for the doctor to evaluate your symptoms. The average time spent with a physician lasts just 21 minutes, which may or may not be enough time to diagnose a serious problem. If you are experiencing complex symptoms and think you will need more time, speak up. It is also a good idea to schedule appointments early in the day, when doctors are typically less rushed.

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