Despite the incredible advances in medical devices and medical practices, accidents still happen. According to Johns Hopkins, medical errors are the third leading cause of death for individuals in the United States. From prescription drug overdoses to medical device failures, medical mishaps can impact people’s health and lives in catastrophic ways. Here’s what you need to know about medical mishaps to keep you and your friends and family safe.
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Last modified on: May 9th, 2020
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people suffer debilitating injuries due to medical mishaps. Medical malpractice can quickly result in long-term injuries that cause pain and disrupt lives. Medical device defects can result in significant damages to peoples’ health. And prescription drug side effects, abuse, and misuse can rapidly put people on a cycle of addiction or harm. Despite the overwhelming investments in the medical industry, the United States ranks last in terms of overall health outcomes according to the 2017 Commonwealth Fund. Here’s what you need to know about medical mishaps like malpractice, medical device defects, and prescription drug issues.
Surveys show that an astonishing 21% of Americans (and one in seven Medicare patients) believe that a medical error was made during their latest visit to a healthcare institution. 73% of those people say that the medical error injured them in some manner — causing more hospital care and health bills in the process.
Unfortunately, medical malpractice happens. And these medical mistakes can ruin people’s lives and subject them to suffering and pain. The measurable costs of these errors are over $29 billion, and millions of Americans suffer due to these malpractice cases annually.
Medical errors are one of — if not the greatest — threats to patients in the hospital. Dr. John T. James’s article in the Journal of Patient Safety, “A New, Evidence-Based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care,” posits that the deaths related to medical errors, such as giving patients the wrong dosage of medication, misdiagnosing a condition, or even miscommunicating information during shift changes or patients change specialists, number in the hundreds of thousands. The absolute minimum is 210,000 deaths per year from 2008 to 2011. However, he furthers, this number is probably over 400,000 due to limitations in the collected data.
The first medical malpractice case happened in 1794. A defendant argued that the surgeon who operated on his wife acted negligently, resulting in her untimely death. While he won the case and set the framework for medical malpractice lawsuits, the overall medical malpractice space still isn’t perfect.
Despite ongoing misconceptions that medical malpractice cases drive up healthcare costs and are often frivolous pursuits, the data doesn’t’ support that theory. Some law firms postulate that a mere 5% of medical mishaps make it to trial — despite these mishaps impacting millions of our lives yearly.
While doctors may make individual mistakes, problems like misdiagnoses, poor communication, and lack of accountability for errors are systemic problems that individuals and patients can’t fix. Hospital systems, certifying bodies, medical organizations, and the universities that train medical professionals need to act to reduce the number of both lethal and serious errors to reduce patient deaths, pain, and complications.
One of the factors that increase the risk of patients getting the wrong treatment over time is poor communication between different facilities and practitioners. You may be forced to go from one medical office to another to stay in-network or to find the right specialists for different parts of the same underlying condition. This, too, is a systemic problem that can’t be solved by individual patients due to the fractured nature of health care providers. People with less comprehensive and inclusive health insurance policies are particularly at risk of poor treatment due to limited communication, as are people who frequently move or change doctors and so don’t have a clear medical history.
But there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. These include:
Medical devices are commonplace in healthcare settings. From defibrillators responsible for helping jumpstart the heart in critical cases to medical implants and surgical tools, almost everyone will come into contact with medical devices during their lifetimes.
Unfortunately, these medical devices fail. Whether it’s due to incorrect use, manufacturing errors, or defective designs, medical device errors can have serious consequences for patients. Medical devices alone account for over 200,000 injuries annually. These injuries can quickly impact your ability to function and work, and they can cause pain, disabilities, and stress for those involved.
Medical implants are quickly becoming the norm for many medical procedures. Pacemakers or stenches can treat heart disease. Hip replacements are becoming increasingly advanced and come in titanium varieties that can integrate with bone tissue. But there are still far too many incidents of patients having unsafe implants or medical devices when the harms are uncovered after the fact or ignored entirely.
Medical implants can often get into the market with no clinical tests through 510(k) clearance, a loophole in the FDA’s provisions that allow companies to release products that are considered similar enough to previously released products. As long as the new device is “substantially similar” to previous releases, the 510(k) allowance clears the way for completely untested products. This problem is worse than just using medical implants that are one step removed from a tested product. 510(k) clearance can create a chain of untested products that are just similar enough to the untested product that came before. Even worse, the voluntary recall of an unsafe medical implant further up the chain doesn’t break the chain. The implants using 510(k) clearance from that recalled implant are still viable on the market, as long as it wasn’t the FDA that required the recall.
Every patient needs to be aware of how thoroughly any suggested medical implant is before they accept it. This can be difficult or even impossible if your health insurance gives you limited options. But it’s crucial that you ask for any medical studies or clinical tests that prove a specific medical implant is both safe and beneficial.
Medical mishaps routinely cause patients pain, complications, further medical problems, and even death. It’s important that each of us stay educated and advocate for ourselves every time we or a loved one goes to the hospital.
The first thing to do after you’ve been injured by a medical device is to contact a lawyer and doctor. You need a healthcare professional to diagnose your underlying issues and provide guidance on how to correct the issue. A lawyer will help you understand the litigation tools at your disposal to help you gain compensation for any losses you’ve accrued due to the medical device malfunction.
For example, you may miss work due to injury or stress. Or you may have outstanding medical bills due to correcting the device malfunction. Remember, health systems have teams of lawyers at their disposal. You need an attorney who understands the complexities of medical device injuries to help you get the compensation you deserve.
Medication errors can happen due to errors in both prescribing and dispensing medications. But you can also be injured by the drug itself. Pain relievers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet are widely prescribed and highly addictive. According to the CDC, prescription painkillers now account for 3 out of every 4 prescription death overdoses. It’s estimated that over 6% of the American public has misused prescription drugs in the past year.
Originally prescribed to help patients deal with pain, anxiety, or surgery recovery, many prescription medications end up creating vicious cycles of dependence and addiction for millions of Americans. And the world is taking notice. Currently, 32 states have a lawsuit against Purdue — the maker of Oxycodone. According to pharmacists and doctors involved in the case, Purdue has been overmarketing and recommending overprescription of these drugs despite the ever-increasing levels of abuse.
Johnson & Johnson has been subject to lawsuits across the United States due to underplaying risks and overmarketing successes of opioids. Recently, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay the State of Oklahoma over $500 million for “helping start” the opioid crisis that’s claiming lives across the country.
A simple visit to the doctor’s office can quickly lead down a dark path of addiction. But it’s not just opioids and anti-depressant medications that cause issues. Thousands of medications harm people each year, and the side effects of these medicines can directly impact peoples’ lives in catastrophic ways.
The overuse of antibiotics is causing bacterial resistance to progress at an astounding rate. According to the CDC, antibiotics have an important role in treating serious illnesses. Sepsis, pneumonia, and the controlled use of antibiotics by people who are otherwise extremely vulnerable to infections is paramount to keep them, and the people near them, safe from these dangerous conditions. But when doctors overprescribe antibiotics and individuals overuse them in less serious instances, this gives bacteria and diseases an opportunity to gain immunity to antibiotics. Strains of different infections are becoming more and more resistant to prescribed medicines, and scientific advances can’t keep pace with these developments.
The abundance of superbugs, described by Harvard as “bacteria that cause infections that are difficult if not impossible to treat,” pose a growing threat to public health. When superbugs can throw off the mitigating effects of antibiotics, they can quickly spread throughout a population center. They can also more seriously impact vulnerable individuals who would have benefited most from the antibiotics.