Radiologist Loses Medical License
June 19, 2020
Why does this keep happening?
A Richmond area radiologist, Michael J. Bigg, MD, has been summarily suspended from medical practice amid allegations of repeatedly missing signs of cancer in his patients’ mammograms. The Virginia Board of Medicine found Michael J. Bigg’s practice constituted a danger to public health or safety. Dr. Bigg owns the Allison Breast Center in western Henrico County which advertised a more comfortable mammography experience for patients. Bigg has not only lost his right to practice radiology, he faces a $4 million malpractice lawsuit and a federal tax judgment of more than $1 million.
The Board of Medicine found Dr. Bigg was “incompetent to practice medicine and surgery with safety to patients and the public, in that he [and his staff] failed, contrary to sound medical judgment and acceptable standards of medical practice, to appropriately work-up, diagnose, and manage multiple Allison Breast Center patients, failed to maintain complete and accurate records for these patients, and failed to conduct himself and his practice in a safe and responsible manner.” The statement of allegations prepared by the Virginia Board of Medicine identified 18 patients who allegedly received substandard care.
Bigg purchased the Allison Breast Center in 2012. The bigger question is why did it take the Virginia Board of Medicine 8 years to find out he was a danger to his patients. The report from the Board cited past and current staff members who said the practice saw 50-70 patients a day. You do the math. Wonder how many patients Dr. Biggs hurt or injured during those 8 years?
What Costs Can I Anticipate in Prosecuting
a Medical Malpractice Case?
April 30, 2020
Medical malpractice cases are typically complex and very different from most personal injury cases. This article will attempt to summarize what we tell our clients about the litigation costs they can anticipate as their case progresses.
First, we must collect all of the relevant medical records. These records will come from a hospital (where a failed surgery occurred), the treating doctor’s office, the patient’s primary care physician or family doctor, records from any subsequent treating doctors or hospitalizations necessary to correct the negligent doctor’s harm, and even pharmacy records extending back multiple years.
Good Medicine in the time of Covid-19
April 27, 2020
My initial plans for this blog post have taken a turn. I initially wanted to comment about how people who need to see their doctor, or even worse, need to be seen immediately in a hospital emergency department, were not being seen or treated because our healthcare system was overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. Why? Because they had a reasonable fear of contracting Covid-19 from other patients or even their healthcare providers if they sought care at their family doctor’s office, the ever present “doc in a box,” or the local emergency department.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Hidden Toll of Untreated Illness”) focused on this very issue. The article reported how at Detroit Medical Center the number of heart attacks being treated dropped from 15 to 20 a week to one or two. The article discussed how the case volumes for appendicitis, gallbladder infections, and obstetric emergencies had all dropped in frequency. The article concluded that based upon prior epidemics from around the world (Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and malaria) the United States may well see “non-coronavirus” deaths increase in large numbers. I intended to conclude this blog by encouraging Virginians to avoid going to the doctor for routine issues like blood pressure or diabetes management…save those trips for chest pain, stroke symptoms, serious and unrelenting abdominal pain, etc. In short, seek medical care for important and serious medical issues, regardless of the current pandemic.
And then I read an article in today’s Roanoke Times written by Luanne Rife, “Care Hard to Find for Virus Sufferer.” The article was about Becky Helgeson who went to her local emergency department at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital with two weeks of worsening Covid-19 symptoms, at the direction of her family doctor, and was turned away from the emergency department by a nurse! That’s right, her symptoms had been present for two weeks and had worsened to the point she could not breathe. Her family doctor wanted her to get a chest x-ray and possibly IV antibiotics…but she was turned away from the emergency department by a nurse.
After being turned away from Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, two additional weeks of worsening symptoms resulted in a friend calling her treating doctor (a pulmonologist) who called the emergency department of a hospital located in a nearby city. She was seen at that hospital the next day, received a nebulizer treatment and steroid shot within one hour, an EKG, chest x-ray and blood was drawn. She was diagnosed with continuing Covid-19 symptoms and acute bronchitis. She is now recovering from her illness.
My Question: How can this happen? How can an Emergency Department turn away a patient with Covid-19 symptoms lasting two weeks who presents at the hospital emergency department upon the direction of her doctor? We need a better answer from Carilion Clinic than…we are “disappointed to read” about what happened. Someone should lose their job because someone could have lost their life.
Non-Competes in the world of Coronavirus
March 23, 2020
These are troubling times. Every person and every business in America will be affected. Retailers, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, etc., will be firing, furloughing, and/or laying off hundreds of thousand employees…many of whom have employment contracts which prevent them from working for a competitor.
Virginia courts will enforce reasonable non-compete and non-solicitation contracts and they use a “3 prong test” to evaluate just how reasonable those restrictions are. First, the court will look to see if the restriction is broader (read more restrictive) than is necessary to protect a reasonable business interest of the employer. Second, the court will look to see if the restriction unfairly prevents the employee from earning a livelihood and feeding his/her family. Typically, a court’s decision to enforce is decided by the available evidence on these two prongs.
However, I did say Virginia courts use a “3 prong test” so what happened to the third prong? Well, the third prong has rarely been at issue in the past and almost no court has issued an opinion either validating or invalidating a non-compete contract based upon the third prong. So what is this rarely used third prong? It is whether the non-compete contract should be void as against public policy.
What could be more against the public policy in Virginia than to prohibit a recently fired or furloughed employee from going to work and feeding her family in a situation our country has not faced since World Wars I and II? Folks, I am not an alarmist but we are headed toward a downward financial spiral not seen in the lifetimes of most Americans. I cannot think of one good reason why a Virginia court would uphold a non-compete contract in these troubling times when to do so would hurt not only the involved employee/family but the whole Virginia economy.
VA Hospitals: Our Veterans Deserve Better
September 11, 2019
Here is the deal. You serve your country in the army, marines, navy, or air force and in return your country takes care of your health needs. People who were in the reserves or National Guard may also qualify if he/she was called up for active duty.
The problem: the loyal men and women who served our country are not getting good (maybe even decent) health care. Want proof? Take a look at this article in the Washington Post titled, ” How Veterans Affairs failed to stop a pathologist who misdiagnosed 3,000 cases .” The article tells the story of chief pathologist Robert Morris Levy on the staff at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It appears Dr. Levy was an alcoholic and his alcoholism affected his ability to correctly interpret tissue slides and perform other routine tasks normally handled by pathologists.
How bad was it? VA officials say Levy made 3,000 errors or misdiagnoses dating back to 2005. However, the number of those affected will be much greater, and the full repercussions of Levy’s actions may not be known for years. Federal prosecutors charged Levy, 53, last week with three counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three veterans. VA officials now acknowledge that he botched diagnoses of at least 15 patients who later died and 15 others whose health was seriously harmed.
My Take: Who was supervising this physician? Someone had to know he had a problem and that is was affecting his ability to perform his job…an important and potentially life-saving job. I get it that doctors are human but systems have to be in place which catch problem doctors (at the VA or elsewhere) before lives are lost. Veterans deserved better!
Neil Armstrong’s Bypass Surgery
August 1, 2019
Neil Armstrong was an American Hero. He flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War, was a test pilot for new planes, was the commander for Apollo 11 and became the first man to walk on the face of the moon.
All of his accomplishments aside, it is his health history and the medical care he received which prompts me to write today. In 1991 at the age of 61, he suffered a heart attack while snow skiing in Colorado. He died in 2012 shortly after undergoing a heart bypass surgery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Seven years after his death, the New York Times published a detailed report about the confidential settlement of a wrongful death case brought on his behalf against his health care providers. You can read the NYT’s report here.
My Take: Armstrong received care from a local suburban hospital to treat serious heart disease. He, and his family, decided against going to an academic institution with highly experienced cardiologists, interns, and fellows specifically trained in cardiology. The doctors at the hospital chosen by Armstrong decided to perform immediate bypass surgery for a non-emergency situation…a situation which can often be managed with medications and lifestyle changes.
Temporary wires were placed in his heart to regulate heartbeats. The wires were later removed by a nurse. While the wires were being removed, Armstrong’s heart started to bleed and his blood pressure dropped. He was taken to the hospital’s catheterization laboratory, rather than to an operating room. There the doctors drained blood from Armstrong’s heart and then moved him to an operating room. He died one week later.
We see smaller hospitals and even regional hospitals take on patients they have no business treating. Why? Because there is big money in providing complex medical care and young doctors are eager to learn how to perform the “next big thing” in medicine or surgery. My advice is to search for hospitals that have an established reputation in the medical procedure at issue. Having a “highly trained doctor” is important but make darn sure that doctor is also “highly experienced.”