Albany, New York Personal Injury Blog

Study reveals high rates of misdiagnosis by primary care doctors

01
March
2013

For decades, reputable medical journals have studied the rates and consequences of medical errors that occur in hospitals. But few major studies have been conducted focusing on medical errors made by primary care physicians, who are often a patient’s first (and sometimes only) source of medical advice.

Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine did publish a study on primary care physicians, and the news isn’t good. According to the study, primary care doctors in outpatient settings often fail to diagnose serious conditions, including cancer, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. In many cases, misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis can result in fatal consequences.

Why are these diagnostic errors so common in outpatient settings? According to researchers, many of the mistakes stemmed from a doctor’s failure to properly examine their patients or to compile accurate medical histories.

The study also revealed that primary care doctors commonly forgot to complete critical steps in patient care. As a result, many patients had medical emergencies within days of the leaving the doctor’s office; emergencies that could have been averted if those steps had not been forgotten.

Failure to correctly diagnose a disease is always serious. When the patient is suffering from a disease that is not life-threatening, misdiagnosis results in unnecessary and prolonged suffering. But with diseases like cancer or congestive heart failure, any loss of time in identifying and treating the illness could lead to irreversible health damage or even death.

Hopefully, studies like this will be a wake-up call for the entire medical community. Patients put a lot of trust in their primary care physicians, and it is time to make sure that this trust is not misplaced.

Source: Syracuse.com, “Study shows docs often fail to detect pneumonia and other serious conditions during exams,” James T. Mulder, Feb. 26, 2013

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New study clearly explains consequences of brain trauma

17
January
2013

In recent years, the media has spent an increasing amount of time and effort reporting on the subject of brain trauma. While significant attention and focus devoted to this issue is necessary and almost certainly appreciated by victims and their families, the sheer volume of media coverage on this issue has left the public exposed to inconsistent studies and therefore subject to misconceptions of brain injuries, treatment and long-term consequences.

A recent study released by experts at the University of South Florida and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital may help to dispel some of these misconceptions. The researchers are currently studying long-term effects of brain trauma. In their most recent report, they conclude that these long-term effects tend to include brain deterioration and cell regeneration loss and suppression caused in part by chronic inflammation.

What this means practically is that over time, brain trauma leads to a less functional and less healthy brain due in part to inflammation of brain tissue. This inflammation and other factors contribute both to cell loss and inability for cells to properly regenerate. However, the study also concludes that therapeutic intervention and treatment of brain trauma at any stage of the condition may help the patient prevent further cell loss.

It can be difficult to grasp what effects brain trauma will have on a loved one. However, this latest study boils down the two most important points related to brain trauma. First, brain trauma generally results in long-term effects characterized by cell loss and cell regeneration suppression. Second and most importantly, brain trauma victims can be helped to some extent by treatment, regardless of what phase of their condition they are in at any given point.

Source: News-Medical.net, “Study investigates prolonged pathological outcomes of traumatic brain injury,” Jan. 7, 2013

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Patients may soon report medical mistakes to new database

28
September
2012

If a patient experiences a medical mistake by a healthcare provider they may soon have the opportunity to report that error to a federal database. Since currently so many medical errors go unreported, the government hopes the additional information gathered from patients will help prevent errors and improve health care systems.

“Patient reports could complement and enhance reports from providers and thus produce a more complete and accurate understanding of the prevalence and characteristics [of medical mistakes],”explained the director of Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a federal agency.

Questionnaires would be available at hospitals and clinics, and fliers would be distributed by pharmacies.

Examples of medical errors the program hopes patients will provide information on are:

  • Surgical errors
  • Medication errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Wrong tests or procedures
  • Radiation overdoses

These mistakes may be caused by doctors, nurses or other medical providers. In addition to errors, the government is also seeking information on near misses and unsafe practices. Patients who choose to make reports would then be given the opportunity to allow the information to be shared with the providers involved, so future mistakes could be avoided.

Some doctors worry that patients may misinterpret when a mistake occurs due to a lack of medical knowledge. Consumer groups, however, are behind the program and feel it has the potential to gather a wealth of information useful in improving patient safety.

Although the project has yet to be approved by the White House, it has the potential to improve patient safety and prevent some of the tens of thousands of injuries and fatalities caused by medical mistakes each year.

Source: The New York Times, “New System for Patients to Report Medical Mistakes,” Robert Pear, September 22, 2012

For more information on our practice please visit our Albany medical malpractice page.

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Series of Construction Accidents at World Trade Center Site

31
August
2012

Earlier this week, a construction worker installing a steel beam at 3 World Trade Center slipped and fell 15 feet, injuring his arms and head. This incident is only the most recent in a concerning string of accidents that have occurred at the site throughout the past several months.

The construction worker, an employee of Falcon Steel, was transported to Bellevue Hospital Center and was described as in serious condition. According to a spokesperson from the FDNY, both of the worker’s arms are thought to be broken.

A spokesman for the construction company managing the 3 World Trade Center site stated that, “At the time of the fall, he was following all OSHA prescribed safety procedures.”

The site has been plagued with a number of construction accidents this past year. In February, a load of steel beams was accidently dropped 40 stories by a crane, smashing a truck on the road below. Earlier this summer, another construction worker fell several feet onto rebar, fracturing two ribs and bruising his liver. The next day, a crane shattered two large window panes when the beam it was holding crashed into the 46th floor of 4 World Trade Center.

New York Scaffold Law

New York’s Scaffold Law aims to protect workers from elevation-related hazards. The law requires that property owners and general contractors follow safety procedures and provide appropriate equipment to construction workers to avoid these types of accidents.

If workers are injured in accidents that fall within the law’s reach, owners and contractors may be held strictly liable for injuries that result. Besides scaffold accidents, the law applies to falls from ladders or roofs and some injuries from falling objects. A construction accident attorney can provide further information about New York’s scaffold law.

Source: Commercial Observer, “Construction Worker Injured at 3 World Trade Center,” Daniel Edward Rosen, August 29, 2012.

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OSHA Campaigns to Prevent Construction Site Falls

31
July
2012

With the construction season well underway, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is working to prevent construction site accidents, and falls on construction sites in particular. Falls are by far the number one cause of fatalities in the construction industry, responsible for about one out of every three deaths.

In 2010, 264 construction workers lost their lives due to fall-related accidents, and over 10,000 were injured. Construction workers are often exposed to fall hazards including roofs, scaffolds, ladders, cranes and floor openings. Almost all of these construction falls are completely preventable with proper training, equipment and safety precautions.

OSHA is reaching out to both construction workers and employers to raise awareness about fall hazards and prevention measures. The agency is stressing three main points: plan, provide and train. Employers should plan ahead for a safe work site, including making sure the budget allows for the proper equipment. Workers then need to be provided with the appropriate safety gear and the correct equipment, including the right types of ladders and scaffolds.

The final step is to provide adequate training to construction workers. Workers should understand how to properly select, set-up and use equipment and machinery. Workers should also be given training in hazard recognition. OSHA has developed a variety of training resources which are available on the agency’s website.

In many cases, New York law holds property owners and general contractors responsible for ensuring sites have proper fall protection systems. If you are injured while working on a construction site by a fall or other construction accident an attorney can provide advice about potential claims.

Source: United States Department of Labor, OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign

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Trench Collapse Results in New York Construction Worker’s Death

22
June
2012

Yesterday morning, a tragic accident at a New York City construction site caused the death of a 29-year-old worker. The accident occurred on Staten Island when a trench wall collapsed burying the worker under debris.

The 29-year-old man sustained severe head trauma as a result of the trench collapse. He was transported to Staten Island University Hospital and there he was pronounced dead.

A Department of Buildings spokesperson stated that a stop-work order for the site has been issued. The contractor will be cited for multiple violations including failing to properly shore up the trench and failing to obtain a permit.

Accidents like this bring attention to the dangers surrounding excavation sites, and the risks of trenches caving in if appropriate safety measures are not taken. Trenches need to be dug properly and have adequate support to prevent collapse. Improper shoring, as in this recent case, is one potential cause of trenches caving in. Other causes include vibration from the vehicles nearby and inadequate equipment used for reinforcement.

Unfortunately, construction companies are sometimes more concerned about saving time and money than complying with all safety regulations. Excavation and trench digging is governed by assorted state and federal laws. In some situations New York Labor Law 240 may apply which gives additional protections to workers.

If you or a loved one had been injured in a trench collapse or other construction accident an attorney can provide further information about your rights and options.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Construction worker killed in wall collapse in NYC, June 21, 2012.

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Medical Malpractice Insurers Continue to Generate Strong Profits

08
May
2012

New York is one of several states that have enacted so-called “tort reform” policies aimed at lowering medical malpractice insurance premiums. Last year, New York created the taxpayer supported Medical Indemnity Fund, which limits the damages the families of children seriously injured by medical negligence at birth may receive.

A recent report may lead some to question whether such efforts to lower the cost of medical malpractice insurance are really necessary. A release from A.M. Best, a company that provides insurance ratings and information, states that the medical malpractice insurance sector continues to generate strong profits.

According to the release, “The medical professional liability insurance (MPLI) sector continues to stand out among insurance sectors for its ability to garner profits and generate returns far in excess of the composite averages of its property/casualty peers.”

The release went on to explain that last year the MPLI sector had underwriting and operating results which outpaced other insurance sectors. MPLI insurers also showed stable investment returns and consistent increases in surplus.

This information seems to indicate that the medical malpractice insurance sector is strong and highly profitable. This is contrary to claims made by some advocates for tort reform that there is a crisis; and actions need to be taken to lower medical malpractice insurance premiums in order to keep health care costs down.

In reality, tort reform efforts may only serve to deprive victims of medical malpractice of the funds they need and deserve, while further increasing the profit margins of the already highly profitable malpractice insurers.

Source: AM Best, Medical Professional Liability Outperforms, But Is This Sustainable, 2 May 2012

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New Technology May Shed Light on Traumatic Brain Injuries

03
April
2012

Each year roughly 1.7 million people in the United States experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Doctors have difficulty predicting the severity of brain injuries. Frequently physicians can’t tell if damage will be permanent, or if a patient will make a full recovery. A new technology may literally shed some light on this problem, by illuminating breaks in the wiring of the brain with MRI-based scans.

Currently standard scans just indicate bleeding or swelling, but this doesn’t explain much about the degree of damage caused by the brain injury. As a neurosurgeon from the University of Pittsburgh explained, “You can have a patient with severe swelling who goes on to have a normal recovery, and patients with severe swelling who go on to die.”

Fiber tracts connect brain cells and allow them to communicate with one another. This new technology, called high-definition fiber tracking, maps the tracts and color codes them by function. Experts can analyze breaks in the fibers that could prevent nerve connections from working properly. Additionally, through what is called “diffusion tensor imaging,” doctors can look even closer at nerve fibers for potential damage. This enables doctors to better diagnose the severity of injuries, give a more accurate prognosis for recovery and provide the most appropriate treatment.

The new technology will soon be used at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to study soldiers receiving care for TBIs. If it proves successfully, hopefully it will be implemented by hospitals across the U.S.

Source: The Record.com, Researchers aim to find invisible damage traumatic brain injury leaves behind, Lauran Neergaard, 4 March 2012

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New Drug Gives Hope to Those With Traumatic Brain Injuries

08
March
2012

A drug used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease may also benefit those with severe brain injuries, according to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research indicated that daily doses of the drug – amantadine hydrochloride – improved functioning in those with traumatic brain injuries.

The study was conducted by researchers from 11 different clinics who worked with 184 patients. The patients had recently experienced a traumatic brain injury from car accidents or other blows to the head. They were in various states of responsiveness. Some were in a minimally conscious state where they could follow objects and respond to commands at times. Others were in a vegetative state, awake but unresponsive.

One group of patients received two doses of amantadine each day while another group was given placebo pills. The therapists providing the care were not aware which patients were receiving the actual drug.

As to be expected, most of the patients improved over the course of a month since their brain injuries were recent. There was, however, a notable difference in the group receiving the Parkinson’s drug. On a disability scale ranging from 0-29 (from no disability to total unresponsiveness), those on the drug improved by two more points. Although this represents only a small difference, the fact that the improvement occurred in only the span of four weeks makes it significant.

Previously, no therapy had been demonstrated to reliably help patients such as these with the most severe brain injuries. Experts said the progress the patients made on the drug was meaningful, but warned that the drug does not represent a cure or method of “waking up” unresponsive individuals.

This news drug does provide hope for the 50,000 to 100,000 Americans trapped in various states of partial consciousness. It is also probable that those with less severe brain injuries would also experience benefits from the treatment.

Source: The New York Times, Parkinson’s Drug May Help With Brain Injuries, Report Finds, Benedict Carey, 29 February 2012

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Going to the Hospital? Don’t Forget Your Checklist

10
February
2012

If you are planning to have surgery soon, or otherwise find yourself in the hospital, you should make a point to be actively involved in your care. Medical errors continue to be a major problem in U.S. hospitals. These include medication errors, wrong-site surgeries and hospital negligence leading to infections and delayed diagnosis. One way to help ensure your safety is to keep your own checklist of things to prepare for and watch.

Below are some suggestions based on a book about patient checklists written by Elizabeth Bailey:

  • Learn the names of all your health care providers: This includes surgeons, doctors, nurses and aides. Knowing names helps you keep track of who is in charge of certain aspects of your care, as well as promote a collaborative environment between you and all your providers.
  • Keep a medication log: Medication mix-ups are some of the most common mistakes that can have serious and even deadly consequences. By keeping a log you help ensure you are given the proper medications at the right dosage and time. It will also give you a better idea of how to manage your medications once you are discharged.
  • Plan a visitor schedule: Make a schedule for friends and family to visit. Have another person with you at important times, like the night after surgery.
  • Bring some hand sanitizer: Having a large bottle of hand sanitizer next to your bed is a good way to remind yourself and everyone caring for you that their hands need to be cleaned. Hospital acquired infections remain prevalent and can be severe.

Dr. Peter Pronovost from Johns Hopkins explained that patients shouldn’t worry that having their own checklists may offend providers. This idea is to create a team environment where everyone is focused on patient safety.

Source: USA Today, Book offers 10 checklists for hospital patients, Kim Painter, 1 February 2012

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