Surely something happened.
The unexpected has happened. Your thinking, "someone must have made a mistake." Although a bad outcome by itself will not be enough to win the case, many times initially it is the only thing that malpractice victims have to go on. And, studies and statistics show that there is good chance your bad outcome was the result of a preventable medical error, i.e. medical malpractice. Your suspicions might be right. And you're not alone.
There is something that they're not telling me.
You can sense it. "These things sometimes just happen," is what they're saying. In a way they are correct. These things do happen. They happen all the time. What they're not telling you is that it's medical malpractice that happens all the time. It is a national problem of epidemic proportion according to a 2000 report the President. Report to the President by the Quality Interagency Coordination (2000). Citing the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) 1999 study the President's report indicates that more than half of the adverse medical events occurring each year are due to preventable medical errors. The cost associated with these errors in lost income, disability, and health care costs is as much as $29 billion annually. A more recent report by HealthGrades puts the number of deaths per year at 200,000 suggesting the epidemic is twice as bad as the IOM's report indicated. Medical News Today.
If something happened, why won't they tell me?
For the same reason they commited medical malpractice, they're human. People make mistakes, and people don't like to admit to making mistakes, especially not the kind that cause serious injury to a patient. It's easy for a health care provider to convince him or herself that they didn't make a mistake. No harm, no foul. When it comes to medicine, very little is known with absolute certainty. They rationalize away their mistake by convincing themselves that it was not the cause of the patient's injury. "It was the patient's fault for being so fat," or "he was drinking too much," or "he was about ready to die anyway." Banja, John, Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism, 2005.
What I see far more than the overt coverups (and I see far too many of those) are efforts, and at times these are concerted efforts, to rationalize away mistakes. This mindset results in a skewing of the information and medical opinions that get recorded in the medical records.
Why won't one of my other doctors tell me?
Because he/she is human too. Because he/she has made the same mistake. And when it comes to medical malpractice the camaraderie amongst professionals is very strong. Conspiracy of silence? You, betcha! Don't be naive and let anyone convince you otherwise. Even the out-of-town doctors I consult with often are so reluctant to find fault.
HOW DO I GET ANSWERS?
Start by asking questions.
There should be no secrets when it comes to you knowing about your own medical care. Unfortunately, the reality is that when it comes to obtaining information regarding potential mistakes, some health care providers will not volunteer information, and others may even think it is somehow their duty to keep information from you. Their duty is disclose important information, not to hide it from you.
Patient rights regarding health care information are governed by a Federal Law commonly referred to as HIPAA. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) is the agency in charge of enforcement of HIPAA laws and is a great resource for information relating to HIPAA.
Doctors are forbidden from disclosing patient information to third parties, including family members, but disclosure to parents of a minor is authorized by law, and in many other situations the patient’s consent to disclosure to family members can be implied from the situation. Patient's Guide to HIPAA Privacy Rule (USDHHS); Communicating with a Patient’s Family, Friends, or Others Involved in the Patient’s Care. Also, when registering as a new patient at a clinic, or as part of the admission to a hospital, patients are often asked to complete a registration form which authorizes disclosure to designated family members.
If the health care provider wants a written authorization before he/she will discuss the family members care, than get one if possible. The internet is streaming with HIPPA compliant authorization forms. I recommended taking the words straight from the horses mouth. Many hospitals and clinics have their own HIPAA compliant release form available online, including the following: Via Christi, Wesley Medical Center Kansas Surgery and Recovery Center, and the Wichita Clinic.
Ask lots of questions.
Wait until the time is right but ask lots of questions of everyone. Strike up a friendly conversation with any doctor or nurse willing to talk to you. Be polite and don't accuse anyone of malpractice. Confine your questions to matters relevant to your diagnosis and treatment, and not just a potential lawsuit. You are not asking questions for the purposes of building a lawsuit. You are not trying to turn anyone into a witness. Nothing will cause your doctors and nurses to clam up more than your talk of malpractice, lawyers, lawsuits, courtrooms and witnesses. You are asking questions because it is your body being worked on and you have an absolute right to know the cause of whatever conditions you have. Let your lawyer concern him/herself with obtaining the necessary evidence to prove your case. You can help by pointing him/her in the right direction. If your lawyer doesn’t have a pretty good idea of what happened he/she may not know where to look.
Try asking some of these questions.
If you think a mistake was made try asking questions like "What are the possilbe explanations for this?," "What do you think might have happened?," "How can that happen?," "How often does that happen?," "Is it some times preventable?," "Why do you think it might have happened here?," "What's your best guess?," "Has it ever happened to you?," "Why do you think it hasn't happened before to you?," Remember, at this point your not trying to build a case; instead, you are trying to find out as much as possible about what happened. Avoid asking questions which require the doctor or nurse to commit with certainty. It is easier for the them to deny or fail to disclose something if they are not certain about it. Avoid asking questions which require them to comment directly upon the quality of care you received. And, be prepared for the rout response that sometimes these things just happen even when the best of care is provided. Don't accept the medical complication, or their answer.
Start googling, or binging, or yahooing, or whatever it is you do.
Get to a computer and get on the internet and start obtaining information. Start searching for medical information first and not lawyers and law firms. This is a war of information and the internet can be your greatest ally, but you are a neophyte when it comes to matters of medical malpractice and you should proceed with caution. The most reliable medical information is generally found on websites dedicated to providing accurate medical information regarding your medical condition. Under “Resources” I’ve listed a number of links to valuable medical sites. Once you've learned some things, then start googling. If your family member had laparoscopic surgery on their gallbladder and they ended up having a bleeding liver then you might try googling “gallbladder surgery bleeding liver.” You will have better luck if you look for the sites which provide information that was written for doctors, and not just patients. Be prepared to spend hours, maybe days, doing a good search. The more you search the better searching you will do.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Your primary focus should be to get better and get good medical care from this point forward. Don’t be afraid to change doctors. You may discover from your internet searches that there are doctors who specialize in the particular condition, maybe even the very complication, you are experiencing. The doctor who caused your complication is not by virtue of that fact in any better position than another doctor to fix it. Forget the old adage about not changing horses in the middle of the stream. Changing horses might be the best hope you got of getting across. Find the best doctor you can possible find to treat your condition without regard to where he/she is located. That doctor is also likely to be the best one at answering your questions. I have had clients who have located and been very affordably treated by world renowned physicians. Oftentimes insurance and even Medicaid/Medicare will pay in cases where the condition is best treatment at a more specialized treatment center.
Secure a copy of your medical records.
If you can, get your hands on a copy of the medical records as soon as possible. I have been involved in a number of cases where medical records have been surreptitiously altered. Don’t believe for a minute that type of thing doesn’t happen. For every case where an alteration has been discovered there are many more where it hasn’t.
Later on your lawyer should inspect the original hospital chart. It never ceases to amaze me that when an attorney goes to look at an original hospital chart he/she is watched over by a hospital employee, but when a physician or nurse looks at a chart they are typically left free to do as they will. I have trouble even imaging a situation where a lawyer would attempt to alter a medical record. The idea borders on comedy. When it comes to doctors or nurses altering the record I don’t need to imagine, I’ve seen it, and there is nothing funny about it. It is fraudulent, it is deceitful, it is not right.
Talk to a good malpractice lawyer.
When it comes to figuring out the who-what-when-where of what happened, it takes a special talent. It takes having a really good understanding of human behavior. And it takes knowing some things about how medical information is recorded, and knowing the particular area of medicine relating to your condition or issue. As a lawyer, what you don't know, you best start learing. When I take on a case the first thing I do is review the relevant medical literature. In some cases that is exactly what some negligent health care providers should have done. Medicine is a broad and rapidly evolving field. One can not recall everything they have read or heard and they should not necessarily rely on what was written or said several years ago. I have read hundreds of medical textbooks and thousands of medical journal articles.
After reviewing the medicine, I then read the medical records, over, and over, and over again. A good medical malpractice lawyer knows that he/she cannot have someone else do this for him/her. I have a wife who is an obstetrical nurse, a brother and a best friend who are general surgeons, a sister-in-law who is an OB/GYN physician, a good friend who is an oncologist, and I have consulted with hundreds of the best doctors from the best medical schools and hospitals. I learned early on in this business that you cannot count on the doctors and nurses to figure your case out for you. Many times I have had to point out to the "experts" things that they have missed. A good medical malpractice lawyer will know the facts and medicine of his/her case well enough to educate the "experts." Gleaning information from medical records is an art. Discovery of a single key fact or inference can make or break your case.
WHO COMMITS MEDICAL MALPRACTICE?
Potentially anyone who provides medical care.
We are all human and as such capable of making mistakes. Physicians, nurses, all members of hospital staff, and any other individuals providing health care to a patient may be guilty of medical malpractice. Even the best hospitals and best doctors in the world have commited medical malpractice.
What mistakes do they make?
The variety of ways this can happen is limited only by your imagination. I've represented clients who have suffered devastating injuries due to the actions or inaction of nurses and doctors from almost every type of medical specialty. There are a large variety of types of medical errors that are more commonly grounds for a lawsuit, including failures to diagnose serious illnesses, surgical errors, anesthesia errors, prescription or medication errors. Of the cases of misdiagnosis there are some which occur with greater frequency. Internet Scientific Publications The Top 5 Misdiagnosis and countless others. I have handled hundreds of cases. Just a few of the specific types of cases I have handled include:
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