The retained surgical sponge case is probably the most classic example of clear-cut medical malpractice. When a surgeon or nurse leaves a surgical sponge or instrument inside a patient’s body during surgery, Pennsylvania law recognizes that this is an error so obviously beneath accepted standards of care that the usual rules requiring a Plaintiff to have a medical expert are relaxed.
We would all like to think that these kinds of medical mistakes are uncommon. The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PSA), in a startling report issued recently, tells us otherwise. Here is a link to the report. http://patientsafetyauthority.org/ADVISORIES/AdvisoryLibrary/2012/Sep;9(3)/Pages/106.aspx.
In 2011, there were a shocking 452 reported cases involving a retained sponge, medical instrument, surgical needle or other item, according to the PSA’s September 2012 advisory, “Update on the Prevention of Retained Surgical Items.” The Advisory also reports on various measures different organizations have recommended to suggest clearer hospital guidelines. The hope is that more coherent hospital policies will reduce this incidence of retained surgical items.
For a number of reasons, I don’t believe guidelines and policies alone are sufficient to address this problem.
Why do conservative politicians and lawmakers continue to bark about the need for medical tort reform? Why does ALEC and other corporate lobbying groups want so badly to limit the rights of those most seriously injured because of medical errors? After all, every legitimate study shows that the “cost” of medical liability payments to those who are the victims of medical malpractice represents but a nanoparticle out of total annual health care costs.
When the administrative office of Pennsylvania’s court system issues data on the numbers of case filings, the number of medical malpractice cases is consistently down from its high points. Data on the results of jury verdicts, even in the “judicial hellhole” that is Philadelphia (as characterized by tort-reform proponents), show a overwhelming advantage for the defendant doctor or hospital.
Even prominent tort reform advocates admit, when pressed, that our legal system is not being inundated with frivolous medical malpractice claims. Victor Schwartz, the general of the American Tort Reform Association, one of the most influential voices for curbing the rights of victims of tort reform, has conceded: “It is ‘rare or unusal’ for a plaintiff lawyer to bring a frivolous malpractice suit because they are too expensive to bring.”
Why do Republicans continue to press this issue then? The answer, plain and simple, is money. Any rule or restriction that limits recovery for those injured by medical mistakes – such as a cap on the amount of monetary damages a plaintiff may recover in a civil lawsuit – means more money in the hands of medical malpractice insurance companies.
In the days after the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that Republicans would retake control of the United States Senate and then, as their top priority, would “repeal and replace Obamacare.” On July 1st, Fox News’ Chris Wallace challenged Sen. McConnell on how he would then deal with 30 million uninsured.
McConnell’s back-of-the-hand remark to Wallace – “That’s not the issue” – received the most attention in the media. Though insensitive, politically and otherwise, McConnell’s attempt to explain the “replace” part of his prescription was more worrisome.
First, McConnell said, Obamacare would be repealed. No ifs, ands or buts. Second, the Kentucky Republican promised, Obamacare would be replaced with “more modest reforms,” like “lawsuit reform,” which he claimed was necessary because of the “billions and billions” hospitals and doctors are paying every year because of lawsuits.
Tort reform? That old Republican chestnut? A cap on money damages as a way to solve the problems with our health care system by reducing health care costs? Why yes, McConnell and others say and have said for years as they receive steady donations from insurance companies and the Chamber of Commerce and others promoting talk of “frivolous lawsuits” and “jackpot juries” and “judicial hellholes.”
Nothing new in all this. What is new is fresh evidence, courtesy of Public Citizen, that the conservative cry for “lawsuit reform” is not the answer. Or, how about this, Senator McConnell: That old dog won’t hunt.
For as long as I can remember, Consumer Reports has been the name most closely associated with straight up ratings of innumerable consumer products and services from dishwashers to cameras to, well, you name it. Last week, Consumer Reports issued its first-ever review of hospitals across the country with a focus on patient safety.
If you’re a patient or you might someday be a patient, if you’re a physician or a nurse or a hospital administrator or, frankly, if you’re breathing, these results should be disturbing.
Consumer Reports (CR) explains that its review is based on the “most current data available,” including “information from government and independent sources on 1,159 hospitals in 44 states.” That sounds pretty good, except that CR was only able to reliably consider data on 18 percent of hospitals. Clearly, 18 percent is not good.