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According to a study from Johns Hopkins, nearly 700 people per day die as a result of medical errors, reports The Washington Post. That is 251,000 deaths per year. Think about that for a minute …

That makes it the 3rd leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer. More than all other accidents combined, more than strokes, Alzheimers, and diabetes. A fully loaded 747 jet holds about 400 passengers. That is the equivalent of 2 nearly fully loaded 747s crashing every day. Let me repeat that: That is the equivalent of 2 nearly fully loaded 747s crashing every day.

And yet, there is no orchestrated campaign to solve this issue. In fact, the medical industry does its best to hide these errors. Congressman, Senators, and State Legislators do their best to limit jury awards for victims of this epidemic. Our elected officials, rather than respond in outrage to this epidemic, work to “build a wall” around the offenders.

Our priorities in this country are backwards. We need to act as a nation to correct these errors. We need to push for full disclosure of these incidents, rather than give doctors and hospitals more power to hide their errors.

I’m very proud of what I and other trial lawyers do to police the medical industry. That is what we do when we bring medical malpractice actions–we are policing the industry. In many cases, we are the only line of defense in the battle against this epidemic.

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How much is something going to cost? Always a fair question and almost always one that can be answered before you purchase anything. But when you are talking about medical procedures, particularly things like hip and knee replacements, you may not be able to find out.

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NPR, reporting on a study by Health Affairs, shows that the vast majority if orthopedic surgeons have no idea how much the implant they are using ends up costing the patient. Only 21% of them were able to accurately estimate the cost of the implants (accurate being within 20% of the actual cost).

That is really an astounding finding. Patients are consumers of medical services and should expect and demand transparency in pricing. Of course you can’t predict the final cost of any procedure because complications occur, but the base cost of the procedure should be transparent.

One problem? As NPR report, the costs of implants are often negotiated by the hospitals. Thus the same implant can be wildly different prices depending upon where the procedure is performed.

Bottom line: patients need to demand transparency in pricing.

In 1999 the Institute of Medicine published its landmark study “To Err is Human” which estimated that medical errors cause up to 98,000 deaths per year. Now, Pro Publica reports on a study in the current issue of the /Journal of Patient Safety that more than doubles that estimate.

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According to the evidence-based study between 210,000 and 440,000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors. This would make medical mistakes the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer (all cancers combined).

I’d like to say that I’m shocked by this finding, but I’m not. Unfortunately, doing what I do every day I see the mistakes constantly. You would think that I see the bad medicine and not the good, but that isn’t entirely true. In fact, what I see most often is very good, even heroic, medicine every day. The care that is given to try to correct the mistakes made, usually by others, is often incredible. But the mistakes that set the patient down that path are often clear and infinitely preventable.

Attempts to shield doctors and hospitals from the effects of their mistakes, such as attempts to limit the damages that can be awarded in medical negligence lawsuits, are misplaced. Instead, the focus should be on eliminating the mistakes, through the implementation of processes and procedures to eliminate the most frequent errors. And true oversight by state regulators on physician licenses and hospital accreditation is also needed.

It makes sense that the focus should be on eliminating the problems and helping the victims of medical mistakes, not on shielding the negligent.

The DaVinci robotic surgery system by Intuitive Surgical, Inc. is a high tech, 3D “robot” remotely operated by a surgeon. The DaVinci system is the hottest new product, touted by Intuitive and the hospitals it sells the system to as the greatest thing since the invention of the scalpel. They promise more precision, faster recovery and other benefits. But is it all that? Reality is substantially at odds with the marketing hype.

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The DaVinci robot is, at its core, simply another way to perform laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic minimally invasive surgery has been around for 20+ years and is utilized in many common surgical procedures: gallbladder, hysterectomy, prostatectomy, hernia and many others. Laparoscopic surgery is performed by a surgeon who places ports into the abdomen and insufflates the abdominal cavity with gas to allow for room to insert and manipulate surgical instruments through the ports. A camera and light are inserted through one port, so that the surgeon can see inside the patient on a video monitor. The surgeon directly manipulates the instruments through the portals. For more on laparoscopic surgery, see this article in Wikapdia.

The DaVinci system differs in that the surgeon’s direct contact with the instruments is severed. Traditional portals are placed, but then instruments and camera are inserted and these are attached to the DaVinci robot system. The surgeon, although still in the same OR room, sits at a remote console and operates the instruments via joystick-like controllers. An easy way to visualize it is to say it is like he is playing a video game. Except in this case, he doesn’t get to simply start over if a problem arises.

Intuitive has saturated the market with the DaVinci robot, by hyping the purported advantages of the system. They claim that the robotic system allows the surgeon an unprecedented 3D view inside the patient, as opposed to the 2D view of traditional laparoscopy. They assert that the system allows for the surgeon to make minutely accurate motions, because he or she can move their hands in the controls but have that translate to only millimeter movements inside the patient. It all sounds great. But the reality is not quite equal to the hype.

Reports have indicated problems with the robotic arms moving independently, causing internal injuries. Reports exist that the electric cautery instruments used in parts of certain procedures are sending electrical arcs out and causing burn injuries to adjacent organs or even causing remote injuries to organs far removed from the surgical location due to improper grounding. There have been reports of the system simply freezing during a procedure.

Even more frightening are the indications that hospitals are allowing surgeons to utilize the DaVinci with very little training and very little supervision. Any time a new surgical technique or tool is introduced, the surgeon and the hospital have a responsibility to make sure the surgeon has adequate training. Some sources indicate that a surgeon may require 100 or more surgeries before he is technically competent with the DaVinci. However, hospitals are not requiring anything like 100 supervised surgeries before turning the surgeon loose to fly solo on the DaVinci. In fact, some are requiring little more that a weekend training session.

Suffice it to say, that we anticipate significant malpractice claims arising out of the use of DaVinci robotic surgery systems. Product liability claims against Intuitive may be warranted in some cases. But even more likely are cases against the surgeons and the hospitals for malpractice, failure to advise the patients of the surgeon’s lack of experience, inadequate training of support staff and many other issues.

If you or a loved one has experienced injuries in connection with a DaVinci robotic surgical procedure, please contact our office for a consultation. Only an experienced medical malpractice attorney can tell you whether or not you have a case.

I’m pleased to share 10 Red Flags in General Surgical Malpractice Cases, published in the September 2012 issue of Trial magazine. Trial is the peer-reviewed journal of the American Association of Justice, the national trial lawyer’s association.

I was honored to be asked to contribute to such a prestigious publication.

As reported here, the Missouri Supreme Court, in Watts v. Lester E. Cox Medical Centers declared that caps on medical malpractice cases are unconstitutional. So, if you have a medical malpractice case in Missouri, what does that mean for you?

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First, if your case involves a death, it is not clear whether the limitation on damages is still in effect in those cases. In April, 2012, the same Court upheld caps applied in a medical malpractice wrongful death case. That case, /Sanders v. Ahmed was actually decided based on the pre-2005 law on medical malpractice caps. However, that decision may be read as standing separate from the Watts decision. In short, whether caps apply in wrongful death medical malpractice cases is still an open question.

Second, in cases involving injuries, but not death, the Watts decision is unequivocal. Caps on the amount of damages that a jury can award on cases that existed under the common law, such as medical malpractice claims for injuries, are unconstitutional. Without an amendment to the Missouri Constitution, legislation seeking to impose such limits will not be upheld.

Third, for active cases, and cases yet to be filed, a Court cannot impose a limit on the damages awarded for non-economic injuries, such as pain and suffering. Under the law declared unconstitutional, the amount of those damages was limited to $350,000. While that may seem like a lot of money, in situations involving life long injury and disability, it is readily apparent that the limitation was crippling. Children injured a birth, who would deal with life-long disability, were not fully compensated. Now, that restriction is lifted.

Fourth, if you have had a medical malpractice case resolved under the old law, whether it resulted in a judgment or a settlement, you won’t be able to go back and re-open those cases to achieve a bigger settlement or verdict. If the decision wasn’t appealed, then the case is final and you won’t be able to reopen it.

Obviously, the actual monetary affect on a particular case is going to vary. If you have a current medical malpractice case you should consult with your attorney about the impact. If you believe that you or a loved one was injured as a result of medical malpractice and would like to discuss your case, please call 1-800-567-8176 for a consultation.

“American hospitals are capable of great medical feats, but they are also plagued by daily errors that cost lives.” So begins a recent article by the AARP, titled Hospitals May Be the Worst Place to Stay When You’re Sick.

The AARP reports several statistics that may be shocking to those who don’t deal with these issues, day in and day out. For example:

? Each year as many as 100,000 American die in hospitals from preventable medical mistakes

? A report on Medicare patients released in January found that hospital staffs don’t report 86% of harms done to patients

? An HHS study found that 1 in 7 patients suffered serious or long term injuries, or died as a result of hospital care

? 44% of the problems are preventable

? The patients who die each year from preventable hospital errors equal four full jumbo jets crashing each week

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If you suspect that you or a loved one are the victim of this type of medical negligence, please call me to discuss. 314-721-8833 or 800-557-8176 or view my website STLMedicalMalpractice.com.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch has reported that Mercy Hospital (formerly St. John’s Mercy Medical Center) has settled a Justice Department investigation by agreeing to pay $365,000.

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The settlement resolves allegations that Mercy overcharged Medicare between 2000 and 2008 for performing kyphoplasty, a minimally-invasive procure to treat certain spinal fractures. The allegation was that the hospital’s unnecessarily extended the patient’s stays in order to increase the recovery from Medicare. The DOJ brought the charges under the False Claims Act.

Mercy was 1 of 14 hospitals around the nation that settled with DOJ over the practice.

Since Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius created an initiative to jointly pursue investigations to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid Fraud in May 2009, the U.S. Government has recovered $6.6 billion in cases involving Medicare and Medicaid Fraud, mostly from hospitals and large medical care providers.

Early this year, the American Association for Justice, the nation’s premier trial law organization, put out it’s report Medical Negligence: The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights. This report relies upon published data from unbiased sources, such as the Institute of Medicine, the Congressional Budget Office, the New England Journal of Medicine, Archives of Surgery, the Office of the Inspector General and many other organization, to clearly show that there is no crisis in the U.S. of too many lawsuits. The crisis is too much medical negligence.

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A few facts:

Medical Negligence kills 98,000 patients per year. That is more than diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, Influenza and Pneumonia. Only heart disease, cancer stroke and pulmonary conditions kill more people than malpractice. Hundreds of thousands more suffer injuries.

The cost of medical malpractice suits amounts to less than 1% of the money spent on medicine in this country. In fact, only 0.3%. Government administration amounts to 10.5% of the cost. Hospitals and physicians invest 200 times more into their facilities than they pay out in medical malpractice.

Between 2004 and 2006, it is estimated that 238,337 people died as the result of medical malpractice. In that same period, only 38,363 payouts were made to victims of medical malpractice.

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80% of the victims of medical malpractice suffer death, or major or substantial injuries as a result of medical negligence. 3% suffer no injury at all and 17% suffer minor injuries.

Caps on payouts in lawsuits DO NOT make doctors flee those states that do not have caps, as many would have you believe. In fact, states without medical malpractice lawsuit limits have an average of 349 doctors per 100,000 citizens. In states with caps, that number drops to 288.

Doctors are not benefitting from limits and restrictions on lawsuits, malpractice insurance companies are. From 2000 to 2006 the amount that malpractice insurance carriers have collected from doctors has gone up 121%. In that same period, the amount they have paid out on claims has gone down by 15%. As always, the insurance companies are profiting, not anyone else.

Our civil justice system protects patients. Fight to keep this vital check on medical errors.

There is a great resource for the most current information on medical statistics, including information on medical malpractice claims. It is statehealthfacts.org a Kaiser Family site.

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For any given state, you can access statistics on how many persons are without health insurance, health costs and budges, mortality rate, Medicaid and Medicare enrollment and much more.

Also of interest is information on medical malpractice claims. Statistics on the number of claims paid in 2010, as well as the total amount paid in claims, and the average amount paid per claim, all broken down by state.