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Chicago Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Could "black box" technology reduce surgical errors and improve patient safety?

surgeryF.JPGAfter a tragic plane or automobile crash, we often read that investigators will know more about the incident after they check the "black box." These devices record data that proves to be crucial in determining what went wrong and under what conditions the accident occurred. The information gathered from the black box can be crucial to collecting objective and clear information.

A similar system is being tested in a Canadian hospital to record data during surgical procedures. Upon completion of an operation, doctors can look back at their work and identify any areas where mistakes may have been made. The black box system consisting of three cameras and three microphones was recently installed in one hospital as part of a pilot period. During the period it determined that doctors have been making errors during two specific steps during laparoscopic weight-loss surgeries (Lap-Band). 

How error-prone terms can lead to medication errors

IMG_4537.JPGMedication errors account for a good percentage of medical malpractice cases and the fact of the matter is that they are far too common. Whether a doctor fails to identify potentially harmful drug interactions or a patient is given the wrong drug or dosage, mistakes do happen and people can suffer enormously as a result. Sadly, some of these mistakes are made simply because of someone misinterpreting or misreading medical information.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMB) has an extensive list of the most error-prone abbreviations, dose designations and symbols that contribute to medication errors. Those that appear on the list are no longer supposed to be used in the field of medicine, but knowing what some of them are might be a good indicator of just how easily and often these mistakes are made.

Could improved publicly reported information improve medical care?

mdratings.JPGWhenever a person has to go to the doctor, it is likely that he or she has several questions to ask. What's wrong? How can I improve my health? What medications do I need, and are there side effects? How will those affect my family?

But before they even get to the doctor, there are several other questions that go unanswered until it is too late. The process of even finding a doctor is an incredibly important decision, but it is one that many people make without having all the pertinent information. The lack of publicly-available information regarding the patient health at a facility and accurate doctor ratings are proving to be serious issues that could be putting patients in jeopardy of receiving substandard care.

9 Tips to Help Your Doctor Make the right Diagnosis (Infographic)

9_tips_to_help_doctors_get_the_right_diagnosis.pngWhen you don't feel well there is nothing you want more than to just feel better. You don't have time to be sick and you want to know what is wrong right now.  Getting to the bottom of what ails you though isn't always that easy. Especially if you have those "flu-like" symptoms that are relatively common.

Symptoms that are vague and common could lead to a misdiagnosis. Fortuntately the symptoms that you are experiencing aren't the only thing that a doctor uses to make your diagnosis. There is so much more information that can help them. Like what medications you might be taking and your personal medical history. Being prepared for a doctor's appointment can reduce your chances of being subject to a misdiagnosis error. To help out we've made an infographic with 9 tips you can use as you prepare for your next visit to the docotor's office.

"What Else Could It Be?" - The Importance of Differential Diagnosis

IMG_4392.JPG"What else could it be?" These are five powerful words that you should be ready to ask your doctor during a visit. If you are like most people you probably aren't looking forward to a visit to see the doctor. As a patient you don't have the luxury of always knowing exactly why you are seeing a doctor. All you know is that you have a handful of symptoms which are currently adding up to a decrease in your quality of life. Unfortunately your doctor doesn't know why you are seeing him either.  He must play the role of detective and use all the clues he can find to discover what is ailing you. So here you are in the exam room as your doctor asks you a bunch of questions and examines you to validate your symptoms and discover any others that might present themselves. During this examination it is your doctor's job to piece together the information gathered and come up with a diagnosis. This is done through a process called Differential Diagnosis. 

Your doctor's process should be similar to the Sherlock Holmes adage "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Using clues provided by your descriptions of the symptoms, data from any medical tests you have had, and his medical knowledge your doctor makes a list of all the possibilities. Then using the same information used to make the list he dismisses the items by ruling out those that don't fit the clues, until he is left with one diagnosis that fits all of the data.

Weekend Surgery is Risky for Children

weekendsurgery.jpgAny patient undergoing a surgical procedure can be frightened. No matter how routine an operation may be, there are still risks and the potential for complications to arise. When that patient is a child, the experience can be that much more upsetting for the child and his or her parents.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have been investigating a particularly worrisome phenomenon in regards to children's surgeries. According to reports, a so-called "weekend effect" has put the lives and health of young surgical patients in danger. Researchers have observed an increase in the number of deaths and injuries stemming from operations performed on children over the weekends. Their study, published in the the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, confirms this trend and now people are trying to find out why this is happening.

Is July a Bad Month to go to the Hospital?

beach.jpgIn the month of July, a new batch of first year medical residents walk through the doors of academic hospitals around the country. Unfortunately those same hospitals see the rate of medication errors rise exponentially, contributing to what has been dubbed "the July effect."

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that teaching hospitals experience a sharp increase in medication errors like clockwork every July - which just happens to coincide with the arrival of new residents and the departure of many of the seasoned staff members.

The study also found that the number of surgical errors at the teaching hospitals did not increase with the number of medication errors. The reason for this is because first year residents do not perform surgeries, but they do write prescriptions, leading to the spike in medication errors.

Prescription Reviews Reduce Costly Medical Errors

pills.jpgMedication errors are caused by many things. With so many factors it can seem like a daunting task to avoid them.  The FDA has indicated that drugs with very similar names, drugs with similar packaging, and sometimes even a physician's bad handwriting all contribute to medication errors. In the emergency room getting the right drug, in the right dose, to the right patient is critical.  For some hospitals the answer might be as simple as putting pharmacists in emergency rooms.

Every year there are 7000 deaths as a result of medication errors.  That trend has led the emergency department at Children's Medical Center in Dallas to staff 10 full-time emergency pharmacists.  Their primary focus, to review every medication and verify that it is the correct dose of the correct medicine for the correct person.  The pharmacists are on call 24 hours a day and act as a safety net for doctors as they move from patient to patient in the ER.

An Epidemic of Preventable Medical Errors

ambulance.jpgWhen someone is injured by the negligence or misconduct of others they can seek justice through the American civil justice system. The civil justice system allows victims to hold those who have hurt them accountable for their actions. It casts a light on improper practices and can be the first step in causing those practices to change. This is an important role for the civil justice system because it makes the world we live in a safer place.

Today the third leading cause of death in America is preventable medical errors (440,000 deaths/year). These deaths are not caused by illnesses or the medical conditions that caused these victims to seek medical care in the first place. They are caused by mistakes made in the hospital that could have been prevented. These mistakes can include a sponge or surgical tool left inside a patient, incorrect medicine dosages, or contaminated equipment. The scary statistic in this story is that preventable medical errors have been on the rise since 2011 when they were only the sixth leading cause of death in America, accounting for only 98,000 deaths.

Cerebral Palsy: Signs and Symptoms

Even though it may not be noticeable cerebral palsy is present at birth. Parents and caregivers may not notice the signs until the child becomes a toddler.  This usually happens as they notice their child failing to reach the developmental milestones reached by other children.

The signs of cerebral palsy usually show up between the ages of one and three years old.  Each child's case is unique and their impairments may be minor or they can be very significant.  

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