UNREPORTED MEDICAL ERRORS AND CONFIDENTIAL SETTLEMENTS

There is a lot of talk circulating about limiting patients’ rights to hold their health care providers responsible for medical negligence. I am biased…as I see (and hear of) acts of unbelievable negligence every day…but I am a lawyer who represents the victims of medical negligence.

My friends can’t understand why I sue doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes. I wish they could see what I have seen. I wish I could tell them my clients’ stories of unbelievable medical negligence and how they cause serious life-altering injuries and death. But I cannot. Those types of cases are resolved upon the condition that the patient and his/her lawyer keep their mouths shut…there are resolved confidentially.

How frequent are those acts of medical negligence? In November 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a study that covered just the 15 percent of the U.S. population enrolled in Medicare. It found that each month one out of seven Medicare hospital patients is injured—and an estimated 15,000 are killed—by harmful medical practice. Treating the consequences of medical errors cost Medicare a full $324 million in October 2008 alone, or 3.5 percent of all Medicare expenditures for inpatient care. Another recent study looked at the incidence of avoidable medical errors across the entire population and concluded that they affected 1.5 million people and cost the U.S. economy $19.5 billion in 2008.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that almost 100,000 Americans now die from hospital-acquired infections alone, and that most of these are preventable.

Twelve years ago, the Institute of Medicine issued a landmark report showing that medical errors in U.S. hospitals kill up to 98,000 Americans a year. In 2000, another estimate, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which included fatalities resulting from unnecessary surgery, hospital-acquired infections, and other instances of harmful medical practice, put the total annual death toll at 250,000.

My Take: Lets make the process transparent. States should outlaw confidential settlements. Hospitals should be forced to report its rate of surgical complications for each surgical procedure. Hospitals should be required to report what percentage of its patients acquire an infection while in the hospital. Hospitals should tell the public what percentage of its patients are readmitted for complications which arose from a prior hospitalization. If the process doesn’t become more open and transparent, nothing will ever change.

Dan Frith

Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.