Do Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Make Medical Care Expensive?
Politically it is easier to blame lawyers for the price of health care than it is to raise taxes to pay for it or to limit care. Here is a medical malpractices case
I have successfully handled and you can be the judge of whether such lawsuits should be discouraged:
Radiologist blows up Patient’s Colon: In this pre-colonoscopy era case a test showed blood in the patient’s feces and the doctor ordered an x-ray of the patient’s colon. To see the colon better, the procedure was to blow air into the colon. Unfortunately
, the radiologist (a doctor who reads X-rays and CT scans and MRIs), using some new machinery hooked it up wrong and blew so much air into the patient’s gut that the colon burst. The patient required immediate surgery resulting in a colostomy (the gut emptied into a bag), followed half a year later by corrective surgery. The radiologist was apparently a good doctor who made a simple mistake with new equipment. Should the patient have been compensated for this nightmare?
Doctor’s Error delays Diagnosis of Colon Cancer: The patient, in the course of a routine physical, had his stool (feces) tested for blood. The test came back from the lab a few days later positive. The doctor or his office
should have alerted the patient and had him come in to see if had colon cancer which was the whole point of the stool test. Instead, the doctor and his office dropped the ball. A year later the patient was diagnosed with colon cancer at a more advanced stage. Should the patient have been compensated for his decreased chance of survival?
Doctor’s Error delays Diagnosis of Lung Cancer: The patient, a recently retired school teacher had quit smoking a few years ago. He went to his family doctor for a physical exam. An x-ray showed a small suspicious spot on his lung. The doctor honestly told the patient that he wasn’t an expert at reading the x-ray and would send it out to a radiologist. The radiologist reported back to the doctor that the spot looked like it was probably harmless but that this x-ray should be compared to an earlier one if available to see
if the spot had grown recently, or else the patient should be re-x-rayed in 6 months. The doctor knew the patient’s wife socially and called her to say there really wasn’t anything to worry about. Two years later the patient went back for another physical and x-ray and by then the spot was enormously enlarged and proved to be cancer. Because the patient was recently retired as a school teacher, he had had frequent chest x-rays by the school district which were readily available for examination. The examination would have shown that the spot when first discovered was a new spot and should have been biopsied. Should the patient have been compensated for his decreased chance of survival?
Hospital Acquired Infections:
The cases are extremely difficult
unless the Plaintiff or someone on behalf of the Plaintiff can point to a specific breach of sanitary care on the part of one or more health care providers. The fact that the hospital staff and attending doctors don’t usually comply 100% with handwashing rules usually won’t cut it. The fact that horrible infections can occur in even the world’s top hospitals helps the defense in these cases.
Bad Results from Treatments or Tests That Weren’t Necessary:
We have been oversold on the idea that the earlier cancer is detected the better off we are and that we should do everything we can to detect cancer early. For most cancer of certain types, early detection IS terribly important. Most colon and cervical cancers fit this advice. Ditto for melanomas, the most serious of the several skin cancers. Unfortunately, there are some cancers for which the treatment may be worse than leaving them along. Routine screening
for prostate cancer is an area of much debate. It appears that THE LARGE MAJORITY OF prostate cancers if left alone, will do no harm, and treating them risks impotence and incontinence. However, SOME prostate cancers, if not treated will metastasize to the bones and cause a painful death. Likewise, there is debate as to whether small ductal in situ carcinomas of the breast should be aggressively treated. CT scans do impose a large dose of radiation on the body. There is debate as to how much cancer risk CT scans create. A plan of medical treatment or diagnosis that involves multiple CT scans may carry its own risk of cancer.
Unfortunately, many factors push doctors to order more, rather than less treatment and diagnosis
. 1) Doctors are often enthusiastic about new technologies, perhaps, too uncritically. 2) As a general rule doctor get sued for not ordering enough treatment or diagnosis. It is hard to sue a doctor for ordering too much in the way of diagnostic procedures because the harm suffered by the patient will likely be small or hard to prove, especially compared to the dramatic downside of failing to timely cancer. 3) Doctors don’t get adequately paid for taking the time to educate patients on all of the benefits and risks of a diagnostic procedure. 4) Doctors want to avoid seeing one of their patients die of cancer; it is psychologically easier for doctors to order more tests than to risk feeling guilty about not catching cancer in time.
Unless there is a very bad, provable result from an unnecessary test or treatment
, usually there is no worthwhile malpractice claim. Patients are largely left to their own in avoiding unnecessary tests and treatments. However, some doctors will discuss candidly their reservations about certain tests or treatments if asked, “Doctor, if your mother (wife) was in my situation what would you suggest?”