Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Two recent court rulings are of interest to us as a law firm which represents the rights of whistleblowers who bring to light fraudulent activity.

The first is a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawson v. FMR, a case in which the whistleblowers worked for a contractor hired by Fidelity Investments to provide advisory and management services. The two employees were dismissed after they raised concerns about what they claimed were misrepresentations in the fees charged to shareholders and the disclosures made to the SEC.

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Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and a new study says we should be paying as much attention to our sweet tooth as we do to our sweetheart.

South Carolina Heart Health

A new study, the biggest one so far, warns that eating too much sugar can greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes heart attacks, strokes and artery disease. In the past, we were encouraged to limit our sugar intake so that we wouldn’t become obese, or so that our teeth wouldn’t rot. Now the research shows, as Dr. Laura A. Schmidt states in a February 3, 2014, article for JAMA Internal Medicine, “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from more than 31,000 people, gathered from 1988 to 2010. They found that people who consumed more than the recommended amount of calories from added sugar were more likely to die of heart disease. (Added sugars are those incorporated into food during processing and preparation, as opposed to sugars naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables.)

Different organizations make different recommendations about the amount of added sugars a person should consume: The Institute of Medicine recommends added sugars make up less than 25 percent of a person’s daily calories; the World Health Organization suggests 10 percent; and the American Heart Association says women should limit daily consumption to 5 percent and men to 7.5 percent.

This is a situation where a little means a lot. The risk of CVD doesn’t just go up as a person’s level of added sugar consumption rises – it goes up exponentially. The study shows that the risk of dying from heart disease increases when added sugar intake is more than 15% of calories consumed daily; but if you consume 33% or more, the risk is four times as great.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills more than 600,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. With February being American Heart Month, this latest announcement about the dangers of added sugar is especially timely. The most common sources of added sugar are sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and candy.

Here are some products from your grocery shelves that are surprisingly high in added sugar:

  • Baked beans
  • Dried, sweetened cranberries
  • Ketchup
  • Powdered cream substitutes
  • BBQ sauce
  • Reduced calorie salad dressing
  • Powdered lemonade mix
  • Granola bars
  • Flavored yogurt
  • Sports drinks
  • Chocolate milk
  • Jelly and jam.

And about that other sweet event this month . . . Sorry, dear, you won’t be getting a heart-shaped box of chocolates. How about some string cheese?

Medical mistakes can change the entire course of a person’s life . . . and the lives of his or her family members as well. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is one of the most common types of medical mistakes, affecting thousands of persons each year. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost 40 percent of patients who unexpectedly had to return to their primary care doctor—for whatever malady–did so because they had initially been misdiagnosed.

women-cancer-misdiagnosis

A missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis can run the gamut, from mistaking a heart attack for heartburn to misreading an ultrasound. Both men and women are vulnerable, trusting that their medical caregivers will hold to the highest standards of the profession but sometimes being the victim of negligence and malpractice. This being said, however, it is true that women have unique health issues: reproductive difficulties; childbirth injuries; cervical and ovarian cancer; breast cancer.

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Any surgery has risks, even those we think of as routine. We often don’t think twice about scheduling some procedures for our children because they are so common they seem to be harmless; and, of course, the vast majority of us would never knowingly subject our children to harm. But even “routine” surgeries can have complications, as these recent news reports show.

South Carolina Surgery Mistakes

A 13-year-old girl in California was declared brain dead three days after undergoing a routine tonsil removal surgery in December 2013. The child’s physician recommended the surgery because she suffered from sleep apnea. During the patient’s recovery, she experienced excessive bleeding and trouble breathing, went into cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead. Whether or not she will remain on life support is a continuing issue before the courts.

Tonsillectomy is the most common surgical procedure in children. More than half a million tonsillectomies are performed in the United States each year. According to The Journal of Family Practice, mortality rates for the operation range from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 35,000. The most common complication is postoperative bleeding, which usually occurs within the first 24 hours after surgery. About 1 in 200 patients is returned to the OR so that bleeding can be controlled. Other complications can include pain, nausea and vomiting. Many tonsillectomies are performed on an outpatient basis, but the Journal recommends that patients with sleep apnea, coagulation disorders, or other underlying diseases, and anyone younger than 4 years of age or living a long distance from the hospital should be admitted for overnight observation.

Earlier this year, in February, another teenaged patient died after a routine tonsillectomy at a surgical center. After the surgery, she was given Fentanyl, a strong narcotic pain reliever known to depress respiration. Her failing respiratory condition went unnoticed and she sustained significant brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. She died 15 days later. The family filed a medical malpractice case against the surgical center and received $6 million in settlement.

Another common surgical procedure for children and young adults is the removal of wisdom teeth. In March of 2013, a 24-year-old California man died unexpectedly after undergoing this routine oral procedure in a doctor’s office. A former football player, he had no known health problems. During the procedure, the patient woke up coughing, so he was given more anesthesia. (The medical records later showed he received five kinds of sedative medications, including propofol.) He went into cardiac arrest. Responding EMTs took him to a hospital, where he died three days later.

Another death from the administration of propofol during wisdom tooth surgery occurred in 2011, when a 13-year-old girl from Ohio died of brain damage. She never awoke from the sedation given in the doctor’s office. The girl was taken to a hospital, where she died two weeks later. The parents won a $1 million settlement in a personal injury lawsuit.

In April 2012, a 17-year-old Maryland girl went to her doctor for removal of her wisdom teeth. Just 15 minutes after the procedure began, she experienced respiratory complications. Her brain was severely damaged and she died 10 days later. The oral surgeon and the anesthesiologist were named in a lawsuit, which was settled for a confidential sum.

Although these kinds of tragic outcomes are rare, there are some important questions to ask your doctor or dentist before you or your child has a “routine” surgical procedure:

• Is the office the right setting for the procedure, or are there medical issues that might make it safer to go to the hospital?
• Who will be giving sedation or anesthesia?
• What type of sedation or anesthesia will be used?
• Will someone other than the surgeon be monitoring blood pressure, heart rate and breathing? (The answer should be yes.)
• Is equipment available if the patient stops breathing?
• Is someone on staff certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support?
• What is the doctor’s plan in case of emergency?
• Who will monitor the patient’s recovery and supervise their discharge?

If you or someone you care about has suffered complications from a “routine” procedure, contact the Louthian Law Firm today by using our online form or call toll free at 888-662-0434 or locally at 803-454-1200. We have been helping injured people find justice since 1959.

Blood infections in newborn babies in South Carolina were reduced by up to 58 percent in hospitals where intensive care workers used safety checklists, a new study shows.

The checklists covered the steps to be taken when blood catheters were inserted in an infant’s vein or artery. If the procedure is not done properly, the infant risks getting a bloodstream infection that can result in serious accidental injury or death.

Simply by using the checklists – and communicating more effectively with each other – workers in neonatal ICUs were able to prevent an estimated 131 newborn infections and 41 deaths.

South Carolina was one of nine states – and 100 hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) – that participated in the study, which was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Following is from the AHRQ news release:
CLABSIs are healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) that cause serious illness and death in infants as well as adults. A central line is a tube (catheter) that goes into a patient’s vein or artery and ends in the central bloodstream. In newborns, especially premature infants, central lines can remain in place for weeks or months to provide nutrients and medications as babies become able to function on their own.

Health care teams in the project states, caring for a total of 8,400 newborns, used AHRQ’s Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP) to improve safety culture and consistently implement catheter insertion and maintenance guidelines. CUSP is customizable and helps hospitals understand and apply the science of safety and take actions to improve teamwork and communications.

When the project began, participating NICUs had an overall infection rate of 2.043 per 1,000 central line days. At the end of the project, that rate was reduced to 0.855 per 1,000 central line days, a relative reduction of 58 percent.

“The CUSP framework brings together safety culture, teamwork and best practices–a combination that is clearly working to keep these vulnerable babies safer,” says AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. “These remarkable results show us that, with the right tools and dedicated clinicians, hospital units can rapidly make care safer..

The nine-state project in NICUs is part of a larger AHRQ-funded effort to implement CUSP to prevent CLABSIs nationwide.

The 11-month study was based on safety guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to South Carolina, participating states were Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

You can view the final report here. Get more information on AHRQ’s efforts to improve neonatal care here and here.

Source: AHRQ http://www.ahrq.gov/news/press/pr2013/nclabsipr.htm

According to a new report from the National Institutes of Health, whether someone treated for heart failure ends up being readmitted to a hospital is more closely tied to income level and community than to how sick they are or how well a hospital treats patients.

The research, which was presented to the American Heart Association, shows that the percentage of patients who are readmitted because of heart failure varies by region. Some regions had rates as low as 10 percent, and others were as high as 32 percent.

After studying records from over 3,000 hospitals and 1 million patients, researchers found that the availability of doctors or hospital beds, a patient’s income level and their ethnicity were more strongly connected to higher rates of readmission than any other factors–including how sick a patient was or how well the hospital cared for patients.

These findings are a concern for some in the medical community, since hospitals with high readmission rates will face a steep penalty from the government–in the form of reduced Medicare payments–beginning next year.

Some hospital advocates say that the best option, rather than cutting payments, may be to look to the communities around hospitals with high readmission rates, since they are often hospitals which provide care to low-income and other at-risk patients. And because of recent hits to the economy and employment rates, concerns about readmissions and poverty rates aren’t just for hospitals and patients in places like New York, Chicago or Detroit.

What all this may mean for the quality of health care–or readmission rates–in South Carolina is still uncertain. Staff at the Good Neighbor Clinic estimate that there are 30,000 uninsured and poor patients in Beaufort County alone. This, combined with the recent findings linking high poverty levels to higher rates of readmission, should cause some worry for both patients and doctors.

About The Louthian Law Firm
The Louthian Law Firm, P.A., of Columbia, S.C., has been obtaining fair compensation for personal injury victims since 1959. The firm was founded by Herbert Louthian, who has more than 50 years of trial experience and is licensed to practice in all courts in South Carolina. In addition to claims involving healthcare negligence, the Louthian Law Firm also handles whistleblower claims, sexual harassment, personal injury cases; car, truck and motorcycle accidents; and other serious and catastrophic injuries throughout South Carolina. For a free, confidential case evaluation, contact the firm by phone at (866) 410-5656 or through its online contact form.

It seems the saying “location, location, location” may be important to remember in more contexts than real estate, according to the findings of a few recent health studies. One of the most significant studies focused on survival rates for heart attacks across the U.S.

The study, led by researchers at Yale University, looked at more than 500 hospitals across the country and compared hospital policies and practices with patient survival rates. Researchers found that survival rates doubled at hospitals which shared five common practices.

These practices centered largely on staffing and staff communication, with things like better teamwork among doctors and nurses or monthly meetings between paramedics and doctors positively impacting patients’ likelihood of surviving heart attacks. Unfortunately, according to their findings, fewer than 10 percent of the hospitals used even four of the five life-saving practices.

In addition to the Yale study, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association recently issued a recommendation based upon the effects of hospital choice on survival rates for stroke victims. According to the two groups, people who are diagnosed as suffering from aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage, a kind of stroke which includes bleeding in the brain, should be admitted to hospitals which treat at least 35 of those cases a year. Their recommendation targets emergency room staff, who are often the first to diagnose patients with these kinds of bleeding strokes, saying that hospitals which don’t see many of these cases should immediately transfer patients to locations that do. Researchers found that at so-called ‘high-density’ hospitals, there were 12 percent fewer deaths than at hospitals that treated bleeding strokes less often. Patients treated at high-density hospitals may also have fewer complications in their recoveries, experts say.

Both of these reports shed important light on how hospital staffing and expertise among hospital workers affect a patient’s ability to access life-saving care–and how not all hospitals, not all locations, are created equal. Unfortunately, not all patients are in a position to know how to choose or even be able to choose the right place for treatment, especially in an emergency situation. Often, it’s left to family members to act as advocates for a loved one. It’s important to think about your medical wishes and to talk about them with your family. It’s also important to remember to take the time to do this before a medical emergency happens–before a loved one’s survival is on the line.

About The Louthian Law Firm
The Louthian Law Firm, P.A., of Columbia, S.C., has been obtaining fair compensation for personal injury victims since 1959. The firm was founded by Herbert Louthian, who has more than 50 years of trial experience and is licensed to practice in all courts in South Carolina. The Louthian Law Firm handles personal injury cases involving medical malpractice; car, truck and motorcycle accidents; and other serious and catastrophic injuries throughout South Carolina. For a free, confidential case evaluation, contact the firm by phone at (866) 410-5656 or through its online contact form

A recent study that looked at more than 19,000 operations found that the costs of medical care in the U.S. aren’t at all uniform–for example, you could be charged anywhere from $1,500 to $180,000 for the same type of surgery.

The study, carried out by researchers in California, compared the costs of treating appendicitis–which involves removing a person’s appendix through a surgical procedure called an “appendectomy.” The researchers looked at the cases of people between the ages of 18 and 59 who were hospitalized for three days or less and whose cases were classified as “uncomplicated..

The average bill for treatment was about $34,000, but researchers also came across a bill that totaled $182,955. Some of the differences in billing, the study found, happen because of the kind of hospital (public or for-profit, etc.) and how ill the patient is. For example, public hospitals tended to have lower costs on their bills than for-profit hospitals, the study found.

The biggest bill was for a woman undergoing cancer treatment who had her appendix removed–although her bill didn’t show any charges for cancer treatments. However, differences in hospital type and illness don’t explain all of the costs and differences in bills, researchers and medical experts say.

About 32 percent of the differences between bills remain unexplained, according to the study. Experts and patient advocates who commented on the study also pointed to the impact of insurance, saying that some well-insured patients are insulated from many kinds of charges, while under- or un-insured patients are given heftier bills–and often without understanding what hospitals expect them to pay for.

Even among insured patients, the type or brand of insurance can really affect the cost that ends up on your final bill. According to one healthcare advocate, costs within the same state, for the same type of procedure, can be three to six times as much–depending almost entirely upon insurance.

Along with questioning the impact of insurance companies, healthcare experts also say that expecting patients to comparison shop between hospitals is unrealistic–particularly for emergency care. Researchers also said their study looked at the amount that patients were charged, not at how hospitals were actually paid. Because hospitals can receive payments from insurance companies, employers, the government and other groups (like drug companies), some of the costs that get passed on to patients may have been affected by these other sources of income. But how this income affects a patient’s bill still isn’t clear.

Some advocates say that looking at how hospitals, insurance companies and other groups give doctors and administrators payments and other kinds of bonuses or “incentives” for certain kinds of medical care may help shed light on how a hospital bill actually gets made–and how costs get passed to patients.

About The Louthian Law Firm
The Louthian Law Firm, P.A., of Columbia, S.C., has been obtaining fair compensation for personal injury victims since 1959. The firm was founded by Herbert Louthian, who has more than 50 years of trial experience and is licensed to practice in all courts in South Carolina. The Louthian Law Firm handles personal injury cases involving medical malpractice; car, truck and motorcycle accidents; and other serious and catastrophic injuries throughout South Carolina. For a free, confidential case evaluation, contact the firm by phone at (866) 410-5656 or through its online contact form

A recent study conducted in Spain showed that almost eight percent of fatally ill patients didn’t receive necessary treatment because they were misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, these mistakes were discovered only after the patients had died, during an examination of the deceased, commonly known as an autopsy. The Spanish study looked at how often autopsy findings matched doctor diagnoses in seriously ill patients who died in intensive care units, and it found a difference in 18.5 percent of the cases — or nearly one in five.

The Spanish study should alarm American patients and doctors, since fatal misdiagnosis is not a problem unique to Spain.

A 2004 article by Dr. Kaveh G. Shojania, who works in the Department of Medicine at UC-San Francisco, discusses the dangers of misdiagnoses in seriously ill patients, and points to several factors that can lead doctors to the wrong conclusions. Dr. Shojania also points out how the reduced incidence of autopsy in the United States makes it difficult to track the rate of misdiagnosis. An example of this could be a 2003 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that nine percent of acutely ill U.S. patients received a misdiagnosis that seriously impacted their treatment. The authors reached this figure by surveying autopsies recorded between 1966 and 2002.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of U.S. deaths investigated with an autopsy dropped more than 50 percent from 1972 through 2007, going from about 19 percent to around 8 percent (or fewer than one in ten deaths). What autopsies look into has also changed, according to CDC data. In 1972, about 80 percent of autopsies examined deaths which involved disease or illness, and the remaining number were because of external causes, such as injury, accident or homicide. By 2007, those proportions had changed dramatically. Disease-related exams represented less than half of all autopsies carried out–and the total numbers, as we just mentioned, shrank drastically by that time.

The shrinking numbers of investigations into the deaths of critically ill patients may be letting serious mistakes in the medical system go undetected. According to patient safety researchers and experts, the number and frequency of errors in doctor diagnoses have gone largely uninvestigated. The experts agree that there are many factors that impact a doctor’s opinion and medical findings–and an autopsy is often an important tool in determining the effectiveness of various treatment options.

Of course, the declining number of autopsies may also have many causes. Many families may not be aware that they can request an autopsy, even for a non-violent or seemingly normal death. Additionally, the cost of autopsies has caused some hospitals to stop the practice almost entirely and may bar some families from being able to request a thorough investigation into the exact cause of a loved one’s death.

About The Louthian Law Firm
The Louthian Law Firm, P.A., of Columbia, S.C., has been obtaining fair compensation for personal injury victims since 1959. The firm was founded by Herbert Louthian, who has more than 50 years of trial experience and is licensed to practice in all courts in South Carolina. The Louthian Law Firm focuses on personal injury cases involving medical malpractice; car, truck and motorcycle accidents; and other serious and catastrophic injuries throughout South Carolina. For a free, confidential case evaluation, contact the firm by phone at (866) 410-5656 or through its online form.

A recent report about robotic drug dispensers, a kind of technology used more and more often in hospitals, found that the dispensers may be more likely to contain harmful bacteria, and be able to spread those bacteria to medications and patients.

According to the report, hospital staff in North Carolina found harmful Bacillus cereus germs during a routine test of drugs dispensed by a pharmacy robot system. The germ is not only potentially harmful to humans, it is resistant to many common disinfectants, including alcohol. Bacillus cereus is commonly associated with certain kinds of food poisoning, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While the most common effects of Bacillus cereus infection are digestive problems or vomiting, the germ has been known to cause lung infections, gangrene, brain swelling and even death.

The study says that the germ outbreak was traced back to parts of the robot cleaning system which, surprisingly, isn’t considered a ‘sterile’ part of the machine and has no formal cleaning or maintenance procedures from the manufacturer–other than suggestions of occasional “fogging” with alcohol.

In the North Carolina case, there were no reported cases of the germ spreading to patients, but experts say the risk of such a spread is possible, especially for drugs given by injection. This makes the presence of harmful germs in the pharmacy robots especially disturbing, since they are used specifically to prepare sterile drugs for injection.

The authors of the study and other experts say that the makers of the pharmacy robots should come up with more specific guidelines about keeping the robots clean and free of unwanted and potentially dangerous germs. They also suggest using the robot in the clean rooms of hospital pharmacies, which may help limit exposure to contaminants. Regular testing of drugs dispensed by the pharmacy robots is also necessary, the report says.

If you or someone you care about has been injured by the negligence of a medical professional or hospital, you should speak with a South Carolina medical malpractice attorney like the ones at the Louthian Law Firm as soon as possible. Our attorneys can help you evaluate your case; protect your legal right to the courts; and stand by your side throughout the legal process.

For a free consultation, call the Columbia SC Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Louthian Law Firm today at (866) 454-1200 or locally at (803) 454-1200. You can also fill out our confidential online case evaluation form.