Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hot Coffee

Hot Coffee; The Story of a Family's Fight Through Our Civil Justice

A young mom says to me “I could have sued my doctor, but my son turned out fine”.  I asked her why she would sue her doctor as we watched her son dancing to the music.  “Because they made so many mistakes”, she said.

I found myself explaining to her that a lawyer would probably not take the case if there was no pain and suffering, no loss of life and not even an injury.  I tried to tell her.  We don’t sue people because we don’t like them.  There isn’t a “winnings” or “jackpot” like the media likes to make it seem. That’s all for the media, it’s not real life.
I spoke with the daughter and son-in-
law of  Stella Liebeck who spilled
hotcoffee on herself and sued
I was telling her about “Hot Coffee” a movie that finally shares with the public the truth about the McDonalds hot coffee that spilled into the lap of the elderly woman many years ago.  Most people think she spilled her coffee and because of inconvenience, sued McDonalds for a large sum of money. 
That’s not the way it happened.  I saw the movie twice and knew the story because I followed it years ago when I started patient safety.  People make comments about lawsuits without knowing the facts. People just like to comment not thinking how hurtful or inaccurate their comments might be.
I saw the movie the first night at the premier in New York City.  I got to speak to the family of the woman who spilled the coffee.  “I’m a scientist, an educated man with a good paying job” the son-in-law told me.  “This was not about money”.  I believed him.  The next 90 minutes was a riveting movie about America’s civil justice system like you just don’t know it.   

Monday, June 27, 2011

Filming Surgery

Massachusetts bill would give patients the right to film surgery

Hospital officials say the measure would increase liability costs and present challenges to infection control. Physicians question the logistics of videographers in the OR.

I’m not sure I would support having my surgery filmed. If others want it on tape, so be it. I suppose the law is a good thing. But to have a video camera in the room, I would be afraid would be a terrible distraction. If I chose my doctor to do the surgery for all the right reasons, I’m not sure filming their behavior would be appropriate. And, for what reason? Assuming it would be for a lawsuit, the video would have to prove that there was malpractice. If they strayed away from policy and standards, was there damage done because of it? Infections surely can’t be videotaped and an item left inside doesn’t need a video. With the surgery itself be videotaped so the viewer(s) can see the accidental cut? So, now that it’s on video, does the patient heal faster? Or, will he doctor say it was because he/ she was distracted by the video?

I am in support of the legislation; I am just pretty sure I wouldn’t use it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When they Don't Want to Hear Your Opinion

The Advocates Role

There are many different kinds of patient advocates. There are those who will keep a patient comfortable. There are those who will review medical records and help with billing, or help with placement and rides to and from appointments and there are those, like myself who are patient safety advocates and concentrate on the patient’s safety. It is often difficult to try to explain to the general public the difference.

I find much of my work is on the phone. I do go to the patient’s bedside to meet with the family on occasion, but when it’s not absolutely necessary I can just get in the way.

A family recently asked me to visit them, and their parent who was being treated at a Long Island hospital. I knew there was tension between one adult child and the attending physician. I interviewed the nurse before meeting with the family and she told me about some of the family heartache and confusion. I knew I would be working on communication issues mostly. The nurse asked me what my role was and what was I going to do.

I told her “I am going to repeat everything that you and the doctor say - but I am not representing the hospital”. In this case, the family does not want to hear how sick the patient is. They want to know what is going to be done to help the patient come home. Medical professionals often know that with a disease, infection or damage to certain parts of the body, patients won’t get better. This family wouldn’t hear any of it. As their advocate, it is important to listen to them, hear their needs and keep others opinions, including my own, out of it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Advocate's Responsibility

There is no magic to being a patient’s advocate. We cannot guarantee a perfect outcome. I just read a blog that was entitled “Be A Patient Safety Advocate. Help Stop Medical Malpractice”. I knew that it was from a lawyer because it used the term “malpractice” and we use the words error, injury or adverse event. It may often mean the same thing but malpractice is a legal term.

In this case an advocate is a legal advocate, fighting for the family or patient after the injury or death. But, make no mistake there are never guarantees.

He used this scenario in his blog: "In a recent case, a man suffering from intestinal pains was admitted to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Diverticulitis. Blockage was detected the next day and surgery performed. During surgery, his intestines ruptured. Then he suffered a heart attack. The man died thirty days later from sepsis and gangrene. The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging the ER physician misread the patient’s X-rays."

This is the sort of case an advocate would fear. Many patient advocates are hired by the patient or family and paid (usually very well) for their time. But what if an incident like this happens? What if the patient becomes infected even with an advocate? Is the patient / family entitled to a refund? Are advocates making patients believe they are safe because they are there or safer?

How can we count the lives we save? When a patient leaves the hospital healthy because I have been there for 10 or 12 hours or more, weren’t they supposed to leave healthy? What about the patient who contracted an infection, just days after I left her bedside after being there over 90 hours?

I am confident that no one will ever guarantee a “good” outcome, but I wonder what people think of the role of an advocate when there is a "bad" outcome.