Thursday, April 12, 2012

How the medical professionals responsible for 200,000 deaths per year are protected

It's no secret that medical mistakes are the third leading cause of deaths in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. For the past decade, an estimated 200,000 Americans have died annually of medical mistakes. Hundreds of thousands more suffer needlessly because of such mistakes. There has been almost no progress made in improving on these dismal statistics.

A big part of the reason is the medical profession's penchant for protecting doctors, especially the bad ones who cause the most problems. The American Medical Association, its state affiliates and the lobbyists funded by this powerhouse have done everything in their power to protect the doctors and other medical professionals responsible for what amounts to 200,000 annual cases of manslaughter.

One of the supposed deterrents to medical malpractice are the"ethics hotlines" operated by most hospitals. Employees are supposed to call these in-house lines to report observed cases of suspected malpractice.

I recently had a procedure performed by a medical technician. To protect her identity, let's call her "Peggy."

Peggy now works at a hospital in the Atlanta area. Her prior employer was Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. It's a hospital that was started by a doctor named Crawford Long. Since the early 1990s, it's been the property of and operated by Emory University Hospitals. The hospital's name was recently changed from Crawford Long to Emory Midtown as part of a rebranding.

Peggy observed a case of what she considered malpractice. She saw a doctor bullying a not very knowledgeable older female patient into having an unnecessary surgery performed immediately. She called the Crawford Long ethics hotline to report the details. She was told it was a doctor-patient issue and to stay out of it. Discouraged, and fearful of losing her job, she clammed up.

That's one example of the way nurses, who often see ethical and malpractice violations by doctors, are intimidated by a now thoroughly corrupt system of healthcare. I say thoroughly corrupt because of the billing dishonesty and corruption that now goes on across the board as doctors, hospitals and charlatans who are in the business of fraud try to game or outright cheat the cumbersome  reimbursement system operated by private health care insurers and the federal Medicaid and Medicare systems.

I can speak firsthand about fatal medical mistakes. Dr. Stephen Prater, an Atlanta electrophysiologist, prescribed a drug called amiodarone for a non-life-threatening condition for me. He initially said my minor premature ventricular contractions required no treatment. When I came for a second appointment, however, during which there was no change in my condition, he decided to prescribe amiodarone "to improve my quality of life." He prescribed it without any warning of its extremely dangerous side effects, and without any baseline testing - both violations of Food & Drug Administration recommendations. Within five months my lungs were destroyed by pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and fatal disease. The specifics are detailed in other posts on this Web site.

Nurses played a key role in persuading the electrophysiologist who put me on amiodarone that I was suffering from amiodarone poisoning. I'd suggested at a January 2011 appointment with Dr. Prater that I should be tested for amiodarone toxicity. He didn't think that necessary until three nurses ganged up on him in February. Only then did I get a phone call from his assistant saying the doctor thought I should stop the amiodarone. Turned out I had developed fatal pulmonary fibrosis from the amiodarone. Dr. Prater has never apologized for unnecessarily poisoning me. 

My freelance writer friend Randy Southerland of Atlanta observes, "There is a 'no blame' culture in medicine today. The idea is that if people are not punished for mistakes they are more likely to report them. Now some third party payers are moving toward refusing to pay for treatment for so called 'never events' - (such as) operating on the wrong body part, (or) adverse drug reactions. (There is a long list compiled since 2001.) The hospital doesn't get paid for fixing the problem and they are not allowed to bill the patient or anyone else for (such events). The result is that mistakes start to go down where there are financial consequences for making them. The same thing happens when success rates are public knowledge."

Randy's observations are valid, but I would argue that the 'no blame' culture for which AMA lobbyists have argued at great expense to the medical consumer has done little to nothing to improve a broken system. If a doctor kills someone through his or her fault, I say the way to improve the system is to litigate.

No comments:

Post a Comment