Doctors in Maine are trusted with important decisions about peoples’ lives every day. However, it has been found that doctor’s errors kill thousands and hurt millions of Americans, including Maine residents. Most people wouldn’t travel by air if there were 365 jumbo jet disasters every year — one a day. But most people agree to be admitted to the hospital for necessary medical procedures. You should be aware that 210,000 hospital patients die every year from medical errors that could have been prevented — the equivalent of 365 jumbo jet disasters.
Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States — third only to heart disease and cancer. Medical errors comprise such things as improperly performed surgeries, preventable infections, medication errors, and misdiagnosis. It has been difficult for researchers to reach consensus on just how damaging these medical errors are.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a report called To Err is Human. The report estimated that 44,000-98,000 people die every year due to medical mistakes. Other researchers have made similar findings. For example, the Society of Actuaries found that 1.5 million patients are hurt due to medical mistakes. In 2010, the Office of The Inspector General estimated that 180,000 Medicare patients die every year from mistakes made by medical professionals. And last September, the Journal of Patient Safety found that the earlier death count was wrong and that it is closer to 210,000-400,000 deaths per year.
Last year, Maine hospitals were ranked among the safest in the nation. 80% of Maine hospitals (16 of them) received an “A” in Hospital Safety Score ratings released by the national patient safety organization Leapfrog Group. These ratings reflect the risk of medical error to which a patient is subject. The grades are put together based on 26 measures of patient safety including number of falls, bedsores and adherence to treatment protocols. The 2013 ranking put Maine ahead of Massachusetts, which led the nation in 2012.
The focus at Maine hospitals is improving overall care, not just trying to perform better than other states. However, some have noted that although the total number of “sentinel events” (any unanticipated event in a healthcare setting resulting in death or serious physical or psychological injury to a patient or patients, not related to the natural course of the patient’s illness) dropped, the ones that did happen were terrible. The mistakes included operations on the wrong part of patients’ bodies or leaving foreign objects inside a patient’s body post-surgery.
One of the most important things you can do as a patient in Maine is to help protect yourself by speaking up. This means asking questions and follow-up questions if you don’t understand a procedure. You need to ask about what to expect before and after a procedure. You also need to pay attention and educate yourself about your medical history, including the diagnosis and the treatment plan. This means learning about your medications and their side effects.
If you feel unable to assert your rights as a patient, you can bring an assertive, trustworthy person, such as a family member or close friend to advocate for you with doctors and nurses. Be careful, too, in what hospital and doctors you use and don’t be afraid to call things out — like requiring them to wash their hands before examining you.
Although uses of prior professional discipline are limited at trial, a skillful trial attorney can hire investigators and work up a case using other strategies to give the jury a full picture of any negligent medical treatment you received. If you or your loved one has been harmed by a negligent doctor, the experienced Maine medical malpractice attorneys at Briggs & Wholey, LLC can advise you of possible solutions and recovery options.
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