Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I was invited by Steven Pegalis Esq. of Pegalis and Erickson to attend a lecture at NY Law School in Manhattan hosted by his law firm. More and more medical malpractice firms are showing concern for patient's safety. The speaker, Dr. Paul Gluck is a founding member of the National Patient Safety Foundation and an OB/GYN from Florida. Hardly the person I would expect to see on the agenda as a guest of a medical malpractice law firm. Although I don’t always agree with Dr. Gluck he has always been respectful, friendly, warm and welcoming to me as we both are on the board of the National Patient Safety Foundation and I thought it would be nice to surprise him.

Expecting this to be an interesting evening, I invited Steve Goodstein, a registered nurse, professional mediator and a board member of PULSE to join me. Assuming there would be conversation around law suits and blame, I was hoping we could see what doors would be opening for alternatives to litigation through this program.

I was greeted warmly by Dr. Gluck and was genuinely glad immediately that I made the trip to see him. The room was filled with attorneys with a scattering of medical professionals, judges and hospital executives.

The information Dr. Gluck shared, how errors happen, the history of patient safety and studies of how no one is usually at fault seemed to be better suited for other medical professionals. I’m not sure this was an audience who wanted to steer away from lawsuits.

I was told ahead of time that I would be called upon to speak following the presentation so I was a bit concerned when I was called upon to introduce myself and then told that the opinions would come from the “professionals” in the audience. Suddenly, with this new audience, my opinion wasn’t important. But, when the conversation following the presentation went to the lawyers vs. the doctors, I couldn’t be stifled any longer.

No one was asking the patient if they wanted to sue, no one is giving them (us) a choice. I explained that when my son died I had no choices, sue or don’t sue was it. Lawyers didn’t want to take the case of a little boy who died from a tonsillectomy and they still don’t. There is no financial compensation to cover the cost of a lawsuit. So, no one talks about it, no one learns and no changes are made to improve future care.

When a lawyer greeted me later and said he would have taken my case, I snapped back, as respectfully as possible, “what if I didn’t want to sue?” I didn’t need the money. There were no more birthdays or holidays. What I needed, and so many patients and families need is answers.

First, I explained, we need to know what the term “I want to make sure it never happens again” means. To patients and families it can mean making changes. To others it means hitting them in their pocketbook.

Either way, it needs to be the choices the patient and / or family makes, not society looking in at half the story. Maybe some doors will open - even in New York.

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