DC Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Could a Baby’s Name Influence the Likelihood of Scary Hospital Errors?

Posted in Medical Malpractice, Patient Safety

A new study published in early July in the journal Pediatrics has many obstetricians and hospital safety officials talking.

Per the research, approximately 11 percent of medical errors affecting newborn babies stem from misidentification. Many hospitals use a relatively generic naming convention, in which newborns are named “babygirl Smith” or “babyboy Miller.” In some cases, this convention involves the mother’s name, such as “Debrasgirl Smith” or “Mindysboy Miller.”

Dr. Jason Adelman, a New York City public safety officer, reported that “many people knew that using only ‘babygirl’ or ‘babyboy’ was a problem, but they couldn’t really report it, because people don’t like to report errors… We came up with a way to track them.”

Dr. Adelman and his team examined the frequency and severity of errors in hospital orders over a two-year period at two different hospitals in New York. Fortunately, these errors are often caught and fixed before problems can develop, such as:

  • One baby getting milk from the wrong mother and having an allergic reaction or some other problem as a result of drinking non-maternal milk;
  • A patient getting the wrong imaging test or lab results;
  • A patient being misdiagnosed or under diagnosed for a potentially dangerous condition.

Adelman et al found that, when hospitals use the more specific and concrete naming convention involving the mother, errors drop by a substantial 36 percent margin. Interviewed for the Milbank Quarterly about the study, a pediatrician at Newton Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts named Dr. Clay Jones said “medical errors that can occur when physicians or other healthcare professionals confuse one patient for another can be quite serious, even deadly.”

However, he offered the caveat that “the results of the study are impressive, simply looking at the percent decrease in retract and reorder errors… but we can’t draw any firm conclusions.” Perhaps, the decrease in errors stemmed from the fact that researchers observed the hospital staff, for instance, making them more conscious of their behavior.

While more research is needed, the investigation suggests that very subtle factors can contribute to hospital errors, which lead to thousands of deaths and untold agony for American patients every year.

If you need insight into a potential case, please get in touch with our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys for a consultation.

Here’s a sobering look at the statistics of neonatal department errors and omissions: Alarming Statistics on Medical and Obstetrical Errors.

August Is National Immunization Awareness Month – Round Up of Immunization News

Posted in Patient Safety, Public Health

2015 has been a momentous year, in terms of discussion of immunization policy. Ridiculous, unscientific efforts to connect early childhood vaccinations with autism have fortunately stalled, thanks in part to publication of another exhaustive scientific analysis that confirmed that there is no link between autism and immunization/vaccination.

Earlier in the summer, in response to a measles outbreak in Disneyland, the state of California passed a measure rescinding the “personal belief” exemption for vaccinating young children against diseases, such as rubella, mumps and measles.

On a more positive (and also newsworthy) note, scientists recently announced that they may have developed a massively effective vaccine against the terrifying virus, Ebola, which threatened to create a global viral pandemic in late 2014.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, along with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is trying to spread positive, objective and useful information about immunizations during August, National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This event strives to “highlight the value of immunization across the lifespan.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, along with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is trying to spread positive, objective and useful information about immunizations during August, National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This event strives to “highlight the value of immunization across the lifespan.”

  • The first week of August will focus on preteens and teens.
  • The second week, from the 9th to 15th, will address immunization concerns related to pregnant women.
  • August 16th to 22nd will explore adult related immunization questions.
  • Finally, from the 23rd to 29th, discussion will focus on immunizations for infants and children.

You can explore these messages and dive deeper into any topics at the NPHIC website. Some of the critical messages that these institutions are trying to get out include:

  • Parents of young kids (2 and under) should explore and get immunizations for their children according to an appropriate schedule not only to protect their children but also to ensure our “herd immunity” to these dangerous viruses and diseases.
  • Parents of children ages 9 to 18 should ensure that kids have gotten all their vaccines before going back to school (or going off to college).
  • Adults – particularly those who work in healthcare industries – should get boosters or new vaccines to be fully up to speed.
  • Pregnant women might need to get immunizations for protection against problems like whooping cough.
  • Everyone should know that flu season is on the doorstep and that flu vaccinations can and do save lives every year.

If someone you love is in the hospital due to a person or provider’s negligence or carelessness, our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Call or email us now.

In addition to ensuring that your kids are immunized, protect them against drowning or other water accidents in August. Learn the facts here: 6 Surprising Swimming Pool Dangers.

What Every Patient Should Know About “Number Needed to Treat”

Posted in Medical Malpractice, Medications

Most drug advertisements today include a lot of superficial information touting the benefits of medications, including statistics that can make treatments look fantastic and benign. While the statistics these drug makers cite may be accurate, they’re almost always only telling part of the story.

One of the numbers used in assessing the effectiveness of a drug is the “number needed to treat,” or NNT. As a consumer, knowing the NNT can help you make important decisions about whether or not to take a medication. Yet rarely – if ever – is the NNT included in drug ads.

So what is the number needed to treat? It’s the number of patients that would need to be treated in order to achieve the desirable effect or outcome in one patient. For instance, suppose you have a drug that’s intended to prevent stroke. You conduct studies and determine the number needed to treat is 10. What does that mean? It means you would have to treat 10 people with that drug in order to prevent a stroke in one person.

The number needed to treat is a simple way to estimate the potential benefit to be expected from a drug or course of treatment, and it can be an especially helpful marker with respect to comparing one treatment or drug to another.

As noted, the number needed to treat is very rarely included in drug advertising, especially if that number. After all, if the NNT for a new cholesterol drug is 80, that means essentially you’d have a one in 80 chance of having a successful outcome as a result of the medication. Depending on the potential side effects caused by the drug and other factors, you may decide that the benefits and risks just don’t add up.

The NNT can also play an important role in determining negligence of a drug manufacturer whose drug caused significant injury or death.

If someone you love is in the hospital due to a person or provider’s negligence or carelessness, our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Call or email us now.

For yet another story on pharmaceutical companies (and the errors, intentional and otherwise, that they make), read: 6 Dangers of Pharmacy Compounding: What Patients Need to Know.

Understanding the Difference Between Absolute Risk and Relative Risk

Posted in Medical Malpractice, Medications, Patient Safety

Turn on the television at just about any time of the day or night, and chances are pretty good that within the first 30 minutes, you will see a commercial promoting a drug. That’s because pharmaceuticals are big business, and the pharmaceutical companies know the best way to make money is to make sure consumers know what their drugs can do.

There’s nothing wrong with advertising in general; but problems can arise when the claims a company makes distort the truth without actually being out-and-out lies. Statistics are often used to skew messages in advertising and elsewhere. And while that practice can be misleading, when it comes to claims regarding medications, this practice can be downright dangerous.

Most drug commercials talk about risk in terms of how well their medications work to prevent whatever ailments they’re intended to treat. But drug makers usually talk about relative risks, often completely leaving out the absolute risks determined by clinical studies.

Absolute risk is your overall risk of developing a disease or condition over time as compared to everyone else. We all have absolute risks when it comes to developing common diseases like heart disease. We can say one out of 10 people will develop X disease in his or her lifetime, which is meaningful when it comes time to determine whether we want to have treatment or not.

Relative risk, on the other hand, compares the risks between two specific groups, often producing results and percentages that are skewed. That makes it difficult to make educated decisions about whether or not to take a medication, for instance, and it can also misstate the actual – or absolute – risks associated with taking a drug.

Understanding absolute and relative risks is also vitally important in legal cases determining negligence of drug manufacturers, and it’s one of the primary reasons why having a skilled attorney is critical in any negligence or medical malpractice case.

Our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help you and your family understand your potential options to seek compensation. Call us today for a free consultation.

Here’s an interesting article comparing the risks and benefits of the common drug (and vitamin), niacin: New Research Casts Doubts on Benefits of Niacin for Heart Health.

Six Surprising Facts about Heat Stroke

Posted in Men's Health Issues, Patient Safety, Women's Health Issues

Heat stroke can be a serious danger during the summer months. Understanding what puts you at risk for heat stroke and what symptoms it causes are essential for your health and safety. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe:

  • Heat kills an average of 658 people every year in the U.S., according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that tracked heat-related deaths from 1999 to 2009.
  • The weather doesn’t have to be super-hot to create the conditions for heat stroke. People who play or work in direct sunlight as well as those who engage in physical activity outdoors can begin to experience symptoms of heat stroke while temperatures are in the 80s and humidity is 80 percent or more, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Even if you’re physically active, you can still be at an increased risk for heat stroke. People who are elderly or very young aren’t able to regulate temperatures as well as others, making them more susceptible to heat stroke. Those who are overweight or obese as well as those who have chronic diseases also stand at elevated risk, as do those who aren’t used to high temperatures.
  • Some medications can increase your risk for heat stroke, including blood pressure medications, antidepressants and ADHD medications.
  • Feeling hot isn’t always the primary symptom of heat stroke. In fact, some people first develop headache or light-headedness as the key symptoms. As heat stroke progresses, it can cause nausea and muscle cramps.
  • While it may seem logical to sweat more when you’re hot, in heat stroke, you actually stop sweating as your body’s temperature regulation controls shut down.

Once symptoms set in, it can be difficult to “restart” the body’s natural temperature regulation system. Getting medical help is critical to avoid seizures and even death.

If you need smart insight into a potential case, please contact our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys for a consultation.

In addition to keeping your body cool, you want to keep cool at the grill. To that end, you might want to check out this article: “Practice Safety Rules When Grilling.”


Four Medical Problems That Are More Common in Summer

Posted in Public Health, Uncategorized

Summers are filled with picnics, barbecues, beach trips and other fun activities, but they can also be a time of increased risks for specific types of disease. While it may seem like most illnesses occur during the cold months of winter, summer brings its own health issues, including these four common problems:

Enjoying lazy summer days doesn’t mean being trapped indoors. Being aware of the risks of illness and disease that are most likely to occur in the summer is the best way to stay healthy and enjoy fun in the sun.

Another hidden summer danger: lawn mower accidents. Learn what to do (and what not to do) by studying this article: Lawn Mower Safety: Practice Common Sense.

Father’s Day Tips for Caring for Your Dad Who’s in the Hospital

Posted in Men's Health Issues, Nursing Home Negligence

Father’s Day is a day to recognize all the great things your dad has done for you – a day for ballgames, barbecues and special gifts. But for dads who are spending the day in the hospital, the day can appear pretty bleak. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make the day extra-special, even if your dad is sick or injured. Here are four ideas to get you started:

  • Decorate the room. Choose a theme your dad will enjoy. Keep it bright and light-hearted, but leave the flowers behind – some patients are allergic, and many hospitals ban flowers as a result. Bring along a bright-colored pillowcase while you’re at it.
  • Bring treats. Even patients on dietary restrictions may be allowed specific types of treats. Be sure to ask the nurse or nutritionist before bringing any food or beverages to ensure you don’t run afoul of your dad’s diet restrictions and wind up having your treats tossed in the trash.
  • Rent a DVD or stream a movie. Some hospitals have DVD players available, and you can always stream a movie or play a DVD on your laptop. Choose one of your dad’s favorite flicks, or opt for a new movie in his favorite genre. Comedies (as opposed to maudlin dramas or horror films) tend to be good choices.
  • Give a useful gift. Gifts that can be used in the hospital or during recovery are ideal. Puzzle books or a book on a favorite subject, a new CD or DVD, or a comfy robe and slippers can all be good choices.

Celebrating your dad doesn’t have to be delayed or deferred because he’s in the hospital – in fact, his medical issues should serve as added incentives for you to show him how much he means to you. Be creative, and remember – the gesture doesn’t have to be big. Just your presence can cheer your dad and provide him with happy memories to brighten his mood.

If someone you love is in the hospital due to a person or provider’s negligence or carelessness, our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Call or email us now.

For more useful tips to protect dad, review: 10 Tips Patients Can Do to Make Your Hospital Stay Safer.


Five Scary Things You Didn’t Know about Hospital Errors

Posted in Medical Malpractice, Patient Safety

Doctors and other medical personnel are in unique positions of trust; when we’re ill or injured, we trust these men and women with our very lives. But in recent years, several studies have revealed an alarmingly high number of medical errors, many of which lead to life-threatening complications. Consider these eye-opening statistics:

More than 400,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors, according to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety. That alarmingly high figure places preventable medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Heart disease and cancer are the top two causes.

Each year, more than 700,000 patients acquire an infection while hospitalized, and about 75,000 of those patients die, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hospital errors occur more frequently in critical care units, according to a study by Harvard University Medical School, which found preventable errors occurred in nearly half of all ICU patients. Most errors were due to simple “slips and lapses” and not due to lack of knowledge.

• The Institute of Medicine says about $400 billion is wasted each year in medical costs in the U.S. due to unnecessary services, inefficient delivery of services and missed prevention opportunities, all of which can be related to medical errors.

• Jackson Healthcare Survey found 92 percent of doctors reported they made medical decisions based on fear of being sued rather than care based on their patients’ best interests – a disturbing trend called “defensive medicine.”

Some experts hope the expansion of electronics in the healthcare industry may help reduce medical errors, but only time will tell if electronic devices provide a benefit to patients or become just another source of potential errors.

Our D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help you and your family understand your potential options to seek compensation. Call us today for a free consultation.


Exploring the Impact of New Regulations: Where Are We Now Regarding Compounding Pharmacies?

Posted in Patient Safety

As we have blogged for the past several years, the emergence of compounding pharmacies created an unexpected danger for consumers because there were practically no controls or standards governing the manufacturing of these medications. Compounding pharmacies came into existence to create personalized medication for patients.

The dangers of compounding pharmacies first became evident in 2012, when a large outbreak of fungal meningitis was discovered in the United States. The source was traced back to contaminated medications packaged by the New England Compounding Center, a large compounding pharmacy based in Massachusetts. The medications in question, methylprednisolone used in injections, eventually led to 64 confirmed deaths, over 700 injuries, and more than 400 lawsuits filed against the New England Compounding Center, resulting in over $100 million dollars in settlements.

Of greater importance for consumers, the outbreak prompted congressional leaders and federal health officials to review the regulations that govern compounding pharmacies. This review led to the passage of the Drug Quality and Security Act, designed to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide new levels of FDA oversight regarding the operation of compounding pharmacies.

As explained by the FDA, “compounding is a practice in which a licensed pharmacist, a licensed physician, or, in the case of an outsourcing facility, a person under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, combines, mixes, or alters ingredients of a drug to create a medication tailored to the needs of an individual patient.” Due to the rising cost of many injectable drugs such as methylprednisolone, many health providers are turning to non-traditional, large scale compounding pharmacies, which many argue transforms the process into large-batch manufacturing as opposed to individualized chemistry.

Although FDCA changes are intended to make medicine safer,  most compounding pharmacies do not fall under the regulatory umbrella of the FDA, and rely on state-run boards for oversight. However, “Firms that register with FDA as “outsourcing facilities” under section 503B will be regulated by FDA and inspected by FDA according to a risk-based schedule.” This change was designed to prevent large non-traditional pharmacies from committing errors similar to those in 2012. Traditional compounding pharmacies continue to operate much as they had before 2012.

In addition, the Drug Quality and Security Act created a Pharmacy Compounding Advisory Committee, which “provides advice on scientific, technical, and medical issues concerning drug compounding under sections 503A and 503B. The committee advises, as required, on any other product for which the FDA has regulatory responsibility, and makes appropriate recommendations to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs.”

Congress has worked to help prevent tragedies arising from non-traditional compounding pharmacies, but consumers must still be aware of the risks of compounded drugs. Traditional compounding pharmacies often have no FDA oversight, and as the FDA cautions, “There can be health risks associated with compounded drugs that do not meet federal quality standards. Compounded drugs made using poor quality practices may be sub- or super‑potent, contaminated, or otherwise adulterated. Additional health risks include the possibility that patients will use ineffective compounded drugs instead of FDA-approved drugs that have been shown to be safe and effective.”

As consumers of any medication, we should make certain that we know all the details of any medication before beginning use, including having knowledge of the pharmacy which compounded the product, the expected side effects, and all of the ingredients and drugs contained.

If a compound medication has harmed you or a loved one, contact a Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorney.


Protecting Yourself and Loved Ones from Hazards of Electronic Medical Records (EMR)

Posted in Medical Malpractice, Patient Safety, Public Health

Recent legal issues and security breaches have left consumers and healthcare providers alike questioning the benefits of electronic medical records. Designed to improve accuracy in patient care and eliminate medical errors, EMRs have instead exposed millions of consumers to identity theft and caused significant lapses in medical care due to inaccurate or incomplete recordkeeping.

If your provider uses EMRs, here are some tips to help you ensure your information remains accurate and secure:

  • Maintain your own records. Keep a list of your health issues and any treatments you’ve had or medications you’ve used for review with your doctor, especially new care providers.
  • Ask questions. When something doesn’t sound right, say something. This is your health, after all, so don’t be reticent about voicing your concerns, especially before signing consent forms for medical treatments.
  • Check your records yourself. Ask your provider for a copy of your medical records, and review them for errors. You may be able to check these records online for free, or you may be charged a fee for a hard copy.
  • Keep everyone updated. If you have a change in medication, undergo a procedure or have tests performed, make sure all your doctors — and not just the doctor who prescribed the medicine or test — know about any changes and new data.
  • Check the Department of Health and Human Services website for a list of breaches affecting 500 or more people to see whether you may have been affected.

Being more proactive about your health records is important for your care and your security, and it can also make you a more educated patient who’s better prepared to ask important questions that could have a lasting impact on your health.

Contact qualified D.C. medical malpractice attorneys for insight into your potential case.