A tremendous volume of surgical procedures are performed each year in the United States. The National Hospital Care Survey, NHCS, reports that in 2006 an estimated 53.3 million surgical and non-surgical procedures were performed during the 34.7 million ambulatory surgery visits. The term “ambulatory” means performed on an outpatient basis where the patient does not stay overnight. Of these 34.7 million ambulatory surgery visits, 57% occurred in hospitals and 43% occurred in surgery centers. Overall, the ambulatory surgery visit rate was 116 per 1,000 people. Find the study here.
The most common procedures were:
- Endoscopy of large intestine (5.7 million)
- Endoscopy of small intestine (3.5 million)
- Extraction of lens (3.1 million)
- Insertion of prosthetic lens (2.6 million)
- Injection of agent into spinal canal (2.0 million)
- Injection or infusion of therapeutic or prophylactic substance (1.5 million)
- Endoscopic polypectomy of large intestine (1.4 million)
- Arteriography and angiocardiography using contrast material (1.1 million)
- Arthroscopy of knee (1.0 million)
- Hernia repair (920,000)
The Surprising Frequency of Medical Malpractice
With this volume of procedures, we know malpractice will happen, and it does. Many however are surprised by how common malpractice is and the severe consequences that come with it. From NPR: “In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media…now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.”
If you are reading this article and feel that you’re a victim of medical malpractice, you are not alone. The personal histories of avoidable error are everywhere. In 2015, Dr. Bud Shaw wrote an article published in the NY Times about his personal experiences seeing an error in the treatment of his family.
Sitting in the hospital at his daughter’s bedside Dr. Shaw saw his daughter’s septic shock go undetected and the signs of sepsis ignored. He writes: “I’ve been watching the monitor for hours. Natalie’s asleep now and I’m worried about her pulse. It’s edging above 140 beats per minute again and her blood oxygen saturation is becoming dangerously low. I’m convinced that she’s slipping into shock. She needs more fluids. I ring for the nurse. I know about stuff like septic shock because for more than 20 years I was a transplant surgeon, and some of our patients got incredibly sick after surgery. So when I’m sitting in an I.C.U. in Omaha terrified that Natalie, my 17-year-old daughter, might die, I know what I’m talking about. I tell the nurse that Natalie needs to get another slug of intravenous fluids, and fast. The nurse says she’ll call the doctor. Fifteen minutes later I find her in the lounge at a computer, and over her shoulder I see a screen full of makeup products. When I ask if we can get that fluid going, I startle her. She says she called the resident and told him the vital signs, but that he thought things were stable.”
“Get me two bags of saline, now,” I tell her. “The nurse then ran for her supervisor and Dr. Shaw took action: “I break into the crash cart, a box on wheels full of stuff they use to resuscitate patients. I pull out two liters of saline solution and run both into Natalie’s IV in less than 20 minutes. Natalie’s pulse slows and her blood pressure rises. An hour later, after the nursing supervisor and on-call resident finally arrive, I’ve finished infusing a third liter. Natalie finally looks better.”
Washington State Malpractice Laws
In Washington, the law is that a medical doctor owes to the patient a duty to comply with the standard of care for one of the profession or class to which he or she belongs. A medical doctor has a duty to exercise the degree of skill, care, and learning expected of a reasonably prudent doctor in the State of Washington acting in the same or similar circumstances at the time of the care or treatment in question. Failure to exercise such skill, care, and learning constitutes a breach of the standard of care and is negligence.
Medical Malpractice Attorneys
A victim of medical malpractice needs a good lawyer as these cases are complicated, expensive and difficult, and insurance companies and their lawyers know it, fighting tooth and nail to pay nothing.
The first step in presenting your medical malpractice claim is to meet a lawyer. The lawyer and potential client need to assess whether there is a case and whether the attorney and client can work well together. If the parties go forward it is time to order the medical records, and if the medical malpractice case has merit based on the records, the lawyer will go forward and consult with medical experts. It will then be time to initiate the settlement process or file a lawsuit. Many factors go into that decision. The timeline for a case can range from 1-3 years and the reasons for the range have to do with the specific facts of the case.