Injuries and deaths in hospitals largely preventable

I was shocked to read two recent articles about medical care in the United States which are not getting very much media coverage. The first article describes a study which found that “medical errors” are the third leading cause of death in the United States. The other article described how a medical device company withheld information about potentially deadly infections associated with its medical scopes.

The two leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease and cancer. Third behind these two causes is “medical error.” According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, over 251,454 people died of preventable medical error. The numbers are shocking. There are approximately 30,000 deaths caused by car accidents, and about 13,000 per year due to gun shots. Thus, medical error is eight times more likely to kill you than being hit by a car, and almost twenty times more likely than you being shot by a gun.

Part of the problem is that hospitals are not being held accountable. There is no requirement that they report deaths due to medical error and or negligence to the Center for Disease Control. Therefore, we don’t know the real extent of the problem or the common causes of these medical errors. When someone dies in a plane crash, the NTSB is responsible for investigating the death and determining causes which are public records. Instead, in the medical world, these deaths are cloaked in secrecy. Commonly, hospitals will have a quality control committee which investigates patient deaths. Unfortunately, in California, the findings of these committees are not available, even to the family whose loved one died. In California, if someone brings a lawsuit against a hospital for negligence or wrongful death as a result of the death of a family member, they are prohibited by law from obtaining the records of the very committee that investigated the death (California Civil Code Section 43.7).

It’s bad enough that over a quarter of a million people die by medical negligence in hospitals, another recent article points out how one medical device manufacturer actually withheld vital information about its product which, it is reported, has led to 35 deaths in the United States.

Contaminated medical scopes have caused infections leading to these deaths.

Apparently, Olympus Corporation knew about problems with their scopes which made them susceptible to causing infections but failed to warn the U.S. market. This is despite the fact that Olympus knew about the problems as long ago as 2013, and had warned the European market of the issues. Design flaws in the scope made it difficult to clean, thereby creating the risk of the infections. Olympus recently announced a recall of the devices in the U.S.

When someone has been injured or dies as a result of medical error in California, the patient or his family is entitled to bring a lawsuit against the hospital for personal injuries sustained or wrongful death in the patient dies. When someone dies as a result of a defective medical device, the injured party or his family in the case of death, can bring a case against the medical manufacturer or the device. In cases where the manufacturer intentionally or recklessly withheld vital information from the patient and or the medical providers, the device manufacturer may be liable for punitive damages.

As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, who has seen the devastating effect that medical malpractice or dangerous medical devices can have on people and their families, I am sadly not surprised by the findings in this study, or by the conduct of Olympus. It seems that our legislatures are more intent on protecting the medical profession and the medical device manufacturers than the rights of people who die as a result of medical negligence or unsafe medical devices.

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