The Costliest Medical Mistakes

It is a difficult undertaking to determine the true cost of a specific type of medical error. Geographical location of the medical treatment can have a huge impact on the expenses incurred by the victim of the negligence – costs vary widely in different regions of the country. The age of the victim, proximity to quality treatment facilities, employment status and marital status can also have an impact, as can whether the case settles or goes to trial.

A recent analysis by Dr. Barry Bialek – made public by medical malpractice insurer Cover MD – found that medical errors leading to brain injuries are the most expensive, followed by those that lead to paralysis and finally those resulting in cardiac death. His study discounted jury verdicts since they tend to be at least partially composed of punitive damages and only represent about 10 percent of all medical malpractice claims. Dr. Bialek’s analysis recognized that there are several possible ways to measure the costs of medical errors, so he focused on a combination of:

  • Actual expenses involved to treat the condition
  • Loss of income associated with the treatment

Brain Injuries

Dr. Bialek’s analysis found that seven of the ten costliest medical errors involve brain injuries. Brain injuries are expensive to treat because the brain is the “hard drive” of the body – it sends out signals regulating the function of the rest of the body, telling the heart when to beat, the lungs when to contract, the digestive system to function, etc. When the brain is unable to do its job, treatment is all-inclusive, and could require dependence on complicated machinery, round-the-clock nursing care, artificial nutrition and myriad medications for years (or decades, depending on the victim’s unique situation).

The types of brain injuries detailed in Dr. Bialek’s study are:

  • Birth injuries like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy
  • Undiagnosed Ventriculo-Peritoneal shunt malfunction (causing unchecked accumulation of cerebro-spinal fluid in the skull putting pressure on the brain)
  • Post-operative asphyxiation due to a failure to supervise in the recovery room or overuse of anesthetics or sedatives during surgery
  • Failure to diagnose and treat post-concussive hemorrhage
  • Hemorrhagic stroke stemming from Warfarin toxicity
  • Failure to diagnose and treat a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA – sometimes called a “mini-stroke”)
  • Failure to diagnose and treat trauma-induced subdural hemorrhage (SDH)

Severe Injuries Not Directly to the Brain

There are several injuries to the spinal cord that can result in quadriplegia or paraplegia. Two of these conditions were discussed at length in Dr. Bialek’s study, including:

  • Misdiagnosed spinal fracture that eventually cuts the spinal cord
  • Misdiagnosis of spinal canal infection and resulting abscess the results in spinal cord compression and paralysis

Surprisingly, there is only one medical mistake on Dr. Bialek’s list that involves sudden death of the affected patient – misdiagnosis of myocardial infarction (heart attack) as indigestion.

These are not only the most expensive medical errors to treat; they are also the ones that have the biggest impact on the lives of the victims affected by a doctor or hospital’s malpractice. If you or a loved one has suffered one of these conditions – or any other injury – as the result of medical negligence, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.