Many Victims–but Very Few Malpractice Suits. Why?
Study after study–by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Health, major medical schools and others, has conclude that hundreds of thousands of people die every year in this country because of medical malpractice. Hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of other people are injured due to medical negligence.
But very few of the people hurt (or the families of those killed) actually file a malpractice suit against a doctor. This is mainly because they have no idea that medical malpractice has occurred. When a loved father dies during surgery, or a daughter has to spend two weeks in the hospital when it should have been a day, there is no way that someone who is not a medical professional and hasn’t seen the records can know what happened. The doctors and nurses who made the mistakes aren’t about to tell you, for obvious reasons.
And supposing you suspect that something was done wrong: what do you do about it? The only realistic option is to get the records and have somebody who knows what they are looking at examine them. You won’t know, for example, whether a tourniquet was left on too long during knee surgery, or whether too much morphine was given. Questions like that can only be answered by people who know what to look for in medical records—and what the information means when they find it.
Often people get the records and try to figure these things out themselves, or they take it to a friend who likewise doesn’t really know what they are looking at. We take a lot of cases that were rejected by other lawyers who didn’t know how to read medical records and therefore missed the evidence of malpractice in the records.
Making matters worse is the new emphasis on “electronic” records. Nurses and doctors now make notes in computers, often using checklists and form language, instead of writing or typing notes specifically for the patient. A nurse can thus fill in “normal” for 20 questions by hitting one or two keys—and the records will make it look like the patient was doing fine and the nurse was watching, when in fact the nurse never checked on the patient at all.
Many of our clients tell us that they called for help from nurses for hours, and that they had to have family members go to the nurse’s station to insist on help, before anyone would respond—but the records indicate that there was a nurse in the room every 20 minutes. Some hospitals have recognized this problem and have forced nurses to wear “personal trackers” that show where and when the nurses are on their shifts. Most hospitals don’t—partly because they don’t want lawyers to be able to prove that the nurses never checked on their patient at all.
Have the Records Reviewed by a Professional
The bottom line is that medical malpractice cases are very difficult to prove, and finding the evidence to even get started is getting harder all the time. If you think that you or a loved one has been hurt by medical malpractice, you absolutely must have your case reviewed by someone who really knows what they are doing.
I’m not saying that you have to bring your medical malpractice case to my firm. There are other very good medical malpractice attorneys out there. But I am saying that you must choose one of those medical malpractice firms—not a neighbor, not a divorce lawyer or a friend from church—but someone who really knows what they are looking at when they look at medical records, and someone who knows what to do with the evidence when they find it.
One of the best things we do for people who send us records is to give them peace of mind. Suppose you send us records and tell us about your case and after reviewing them we tell you that the doctors did nothing wrong. That’s a lot better than not knowing, or thinking that you let yourself or your family down by not even checking. And its a lot better for the doctors who did their best and don’t deserve to have you thinking that they messed up.
If there was malpractice, then your suit is an important step in preventing what happened to you from happening to someone else.