Surprise Medical Bills Are Back in the Spotlight as an Unfair Practice

Patient with cast worried about medical bills

Patient with cast worried about medical billsBecause we represent clients in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, we know medical bills are a huge stress. Many people leave the hospital and actually feel worse, anticipating all the medical bills.

In most cases, you can ask your health insurance provider to pay and they will at least cover a portion. Except if you receive a bill for an “out-of-network” doctor or hospital. These are “surprise medical bills,” often incurred during emergencies, when patients may not have a choice about where to receive care. You can also get hit with these bills if an out-of-network physician treats you as part of your care at an in-network hospital or medical office.

This is a stressful situation for anyone. Not only is a patient asked to pay the medical bill, they are often charged more than an insurance company, with all its resources, would ever pay. Which isn’t at all fair.

What can be done? Gov. Charlie Baker is working to prohibit surprise medical bills as part of the health care bill he introduced in January. Federal lawmakers have also made two proposals.

Massachusetts Legislation on Surprise Medical Bills

Patients have been left bruised and aching by surprise medical bills in Massachusetts. We saw a small glimpse in March 2019, when The Boston Globe reported patients filed 115 complaints over two years about surprise medical bills.

As a result, the attorney general’s office found patients were being treated in either a physician’s office or urgent care center. But it was the parent company which sent the bill. Partners Health Care and its hospitals settled with the AG over this practice and should have changed practices to better inform patients.

In 2019, Massachusetts lawmakers proposed B.967. This legislation would require patients to provide specific consent to receive out-of-network health care service. Providers would no longer be able to bill consumers for more than in-network cost-sharing. Gov. Charlie Baker has also included the measure in his health care legislation proposed in January.

Federal Legislation on Surprise Medical Bills

Meanwhile, we saw surprise medical bills come in Congress last week. On Feb. 11th, the House Education and Labor Committee approved a bill to protect patients from surprise medical bills. This was a bipartisan vote, split 32-13 to send the measure to the full House of Representatives. Rather than overcharge a patient who is out-of-network, the bill would set payment for surprise medical bills based on the median amount for the geographic area.

The House Ways and Means Committee is working on different legislation. The approach is to bring in an outside arbitrator to make payment decisions. Hospitals and physician groups have supported this bill, but others say it risks driving up health-care premiums.

Tips for Protecting Your Wallet When Receiving Medical Care in Massachusetts

Here are our suggestions to help you protect against unsafe medical billing and care:

Always use electronic medical record systems. Request access at  your primary care physician’s office and at any doctor you see.

Massachusetts Patient’s Bill of Rights. M.G.L. c. 111, § 70E details the Massachusetts Patient’s Bill of Rights. This law states you have the right to inspect your medical records and the right to make decisions about privacy in your medical care.

Request an estimate for your medical procedure. While you cannot plan for every emergency, in Massachusetts, you have the right to ask, “How much does that cost?” before many procedures. You have this right because Massachusetts passed a health pricing transparency law in 2015. You can now request estimates from several doctors and decide where you want to be treated based on costs, ratings, online patient reviews and travel time from your home.

Under M.G.L. c. 111, § 228, you can request pricing from a doctor, health care provider or hospital. They must provide you with the following: how much the health care provider will be paid by an insurance carrier or what the charge will be if you self-pay or have an out-of-network service. Health care providers are given two business days to provide the information.

When doctors and hospitals cannot provide specific pricing, they must provide you with an estimated maximum charge.

You can ask the health provider directly. If you have health insurance, you can ask the company for assistance if you think it will be beneficial. We suggest that you request the price on your own first.

Some medical providers have online forms you can easily fill out and these provide examples of what information you may need. For example, while it’s helpful to have your surgery scheduled for a certain date and time, it’s not required when you request an estimate. Here is one example from Massachusetts General Hospital website.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck – Boston Medical Malpractice Lawyers

Breakstone, White & Gluck has over 100 years combined experience representing those injured by medical malpractice an surgical errors in Massachusetts. If you have been injured by someone else’s negligence, learn your legal rights for seeking financial compensation at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also use our contact form.

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Breakstone, White & Gluck Recognized by Super Lawyers 

It is our pleasure to announce that Super Lawyers has recognized Breakstone, White & Gluck in its 2019 rankings. This was the 16th year our attorneys have been recognized.

Marc L. BreakstoneMarc L. Breakstone has been selected to the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers, Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers and the 2019 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list, recognized as a top-rated medical malpractice attorney in Boston.

David W. White has been selected to the 2019 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list, recognized as a top-rated personal injury attorney in Boston. Attorney White has previously been selected to the Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawers seven times and to the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers  three times.

Ronald E. GluckRonald E. Gluck has been selected to the 2019 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list, recognized as a top-rated personal injury attorney in Boston. 

Super Lawyers is a rating service which highlights outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas. Selections are made using a multiphase process, including a statewide survey of lawyers, independent research and evaluation and peer reviews from within a practice area. 

Super Lawyers recognizes the top 5 percent of lawyers from that process. Another 2.5 percent of attorneys are selected to the Rising Stars list, which showcases talented attorneys under age 40. 

About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Over 100 Years Combined Experience in Personal Injury Plaintiff Representation
Breakstone, White & Gluck is respected across Massachusetts for our commitment to our clients and our results.  We have been representing plaintiffs in personal injury and medical malpractice cases as a firm since 1992. Each of our partners has over 30 years of experience.

Our firm is experienced in handling all types of personal injury cases, including those involving catastrophic accidents, wrongful death, motor vehicle accidents, product liability, premises liability, construction accidents, explosions, spinal cord injuries, head injuries and traumatic brain injuries. Our attorneys are regularly interviewed in the local media for their expertise in these specialties and Massachusetts insurance laws.

We have always been active in the Massachusetts legal community and are dedicated to sharing our knowledge with other attorneys through continuing legal education and professional organizations. Attorney Marc L. Breakstone and Attorney Ronald E. Gluck serve on the Board of Trustees for the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA), while Attorney David W. White is a past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. We are also committed to giving back and working to prevent injuries. Through our Project KidSafe campaign, our attorneys have given away more than 25,000 free bicycle helmets to children across the state of Massachusetts. 

We invite you to visit our website to read about our work and watch testimonials from past clients.

Free Legal Consultation – Breakstone, White & Gluck

If you have been injured, you should speak to an experienced Boston personal injury lawyer and learn your legal rights for seeking financial compensation. For a free consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also use our contact form.

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Patients Suffer Nearly 62,000 Medical Errors in Massachusetts in Single Year

Doctor with a patient at a Boston hospital.
doctor with a patient at a Boston hospital

A new report shows after medical errors, medical providers only offer 25 percent of patients and families in Massachusetts support services, such as counseling or help from a social workers. Very few patients are offered financial assistance or compensation.

New research shows patients suffered nearly 62,000 medical errors during a single year in Massachusetts, resulting in more than $617 million in related insurance claims.

The Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety compiled its latest report after conducting two studies. The first analyzed health insurance claims data. The second study randomly chose 5,000 households in Massachusetts. Nearly 1,000 people responded they had suffered a medical error or someone in their household or a close family member had. The center heard from 253 people in a follow-up survey.

The Betsy Lehman Center was founded following the death of Betsy Lehman in 1994. Lehman, a Boston Globe health columnist, suffered a massive overdose of chemotherapy at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in December 1994.

Two months after her death, Dana Farber staff informed Lehman’s family there had been a medication error. This was a rare step and the Boston Globe began investigating patient safety. Today, the Betsy Lehman Center operates as a non-regulatory state agency, reporting on medical errors and leading patient safety initiatives.

From the report:

Report “underestimates” medical errors. The Betsy Lehman Center said its reporting likely underestimates the number of medical errors in Massachusetts. This is because diagnostic and medication errors may not be reliably tracked by analyzing insurance claims.

Emotional toll. Patients and their families suffer for years after medical errors. Nearly 30 percent saw an impact on their physical health for at least one year or more, according to the report. One-third of the respondents were still anxious 3-6 years later. One in 5 were depressed and more than 25 percent were sad or angry.

Avoiding health care. One third of survey respondents said they “sometimes” or “always” avoid medical care in general. Two thirds continue to carry reduced levels of trust during medical care. More than half of the respondents still avoid individual doctors and health care systems, even though 3 to 6 years had passed since the incident.

Medical errors can happen anywhere. Massachusetts has highly rated hospitals, but similar rankings are not available for outpatient and long-term care. Many medical errors happen in outpatient settings. In fact, one in 20 patients suffers a medical error during outpatient care, according to research published by Quality & Safety in 2014.

Medical errors are most common in hospitals (41 percent) and doctor’s offices or clinics (27 percent) and the emergency room (15 percent). Another 17 percent of mistakes happen in other healthcare settings, including pharmacies, dental offices and nursing homes.

Massachusetts “I’m sorry” law. Massachusetts passed the health payment reform act in 2012. The law provides physicians a “cooling off” time to disclose medical errors and apologize to patients and families. Physicians are required to inform patients when there is an “unanticipated outcome with significant medical complication resulting from the provider’s mistake.”

Yet the report shows many doctors are not apologizing. Just 19 percent of those surveyed said they received an apology from a doctor. Most of those – 82 percent – felt they received a sincere apology.

After mistakes, just 25 percent of patients and families were offered support services by medical providers. About 8 percent were offered psychological counseling. Another 13 percent were offered spiritual support from a religious advisor. Another 11 percent were asked if they needed assistance from a social worker.

Most providers are not offering additional financial assistance or compensation. Just 3 percent offered patients and families help paying out-of-pocket medical costs following a medical error. Two percent of patients and families received financial compensation for injuries caused by medical errors.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck

The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck specialize in medical malpractice. We have been consistently recognized for our results for clients in cases involving medical errors, surgical malpractice, failure to diagnose cancer, ambulance negligence and nursing home neglect.

If you or a family member has been injured, learn your legal rights. For a free legal consultation, contact Breakstone, White & Gluck at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676. You can also use our contact form.

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Is Your Doctor’s Office Safe? Read Our 2018 Checklist for Medical Safety

Doctor and patient in medical office

One tip for 2018? Do your online research before you visit the doctor. Read our blog to learn which websites are worth visiting.

As the New Year begins, many of us have questions about our medical health. Some of us are trying to understand the fine print on new health insurance policies while others prepare for medical appointments or surgical procedures. 

A doctor’s office should be a safe place. But as medical malpractice lawyers here in Boston, we know the reality is that medical mistakes can happen at any stage during medical care, from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy to surgery. Mistakes are not rare either.

Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to a 2016 study out of John Hopkins University. Researchers analyzed 8 years of medical death rates, concluding more than 250,000 deaths each year now arise out of medical mistakes. 

This is an unbelievable number. For comparison, we looked at figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease were the top causes of death in 2016.  According to the John Hopkins’ study, about 95,000 more people are now dying from medical errors than chronic lower respiratory disease each year.

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our attorneys are leaders in the field of medical malpractice law in Massachusetts. We offer these safety tips for patients in 2018:

  1. Check on your doctor and specialists. You can learn about your doctor and specialists by using the Physician Search service, offered by the Massachusetts Board of Registration. This service will provide you with information about the doctor’s education, experience, insurance plans accepted and locations where they practice. More important, it will offer you information about criminal convictions, discipline actions and medical malpractice payments the physician has made and reported to the state. Note that some of this data is limited to the past 10 years. Other sources of information are the doctor’s website and online reviews.
  2. Check your hospital. Before you book a surgery is a good time to check online. Each year, the federal government reports on hospitals with a high rate of patient injuries. Nine Massachusetts hospitals made the 2018 list and will now lose 1 percent in Medicare payments for a year. These hospitals include Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston; Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton; MetroWest Medical Center, Framingham and Lawrence General Hospital, Lawrence. In Central and Western Massachusetts: Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield; Clinton Hospital Association, Clinton; Mercy Medical Center, Springfield; Nashoba Valley Medical Center, Ayer and Noble Hospital, Westfield.
  3. Bring a patient advocate. Don’t go alone. It is your right to bring a patient advocate with you to a medical appointment. This is one of many protections in the Massachusetts Patients Bill of Rights, G.L. c. 111, § 70E. Bring a spouse, a friend or someone you trust to help you take notes on test results and your doctor’s instructions on follow up care. Your patient advocate is also there to observe and ask questions and speak up for you if they see something that doesn’t look right.
  4. Carry your health insurance card with you. If you recently received a new card, make sure you are carrying it. Also carry your children’s cards and make sure to periodically review emergency contact forms for you, your spouse, your children and other family members, including elderly relatives. If something happens, you want to know as soon as possible so you can be on site as your love one receives medical care.
  5. Medical records. Remember you have a right to your medical records. Look for a doctor who will provide you with online access to your medical records. Before you schedule a surgery, search online for the hospital’s medical record office. Learn what you will need to do to request your medical records after your procedure.

We hope our tips help you and your family enjoy a healthy 2018. However, if you are injured as a result of medical care, it is critical to contact an experienced Boston medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. Do not sign any paperwork offered by a hospital or medical office without learning your rights and understanding what treatment you will require going forward.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck
To learn more about hiring a medical malpractice lawyer, please watch our video.
To learn more about our work, read our medical malpractice case results.

About Attorney Marc L. Breakstone
Attorney Marc L. Breakstone has over 30 years experience representing plaintiffs injured by medical malpractice in Massachusetts. Attorney Breakstone has been consistently recognized for his work, including on the Top 100 New England Super Lawyers list and Top 100 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list, as well as by U.S. News – Best Lawyers. Read more about Attorney Breakstone.

Massachusetts Health Care Consumers and Patients Have Legal Rights

As The Boston Globe continues to report on the unsafe practice of concurrent surgeries, we want to remind patients and health care consumers that you have legal rights when you seek medical treatment.

In 2015, The Boston Globe Spotlight Team reported on the practice of concurrent, overlapping surgeries at hospitals in Massachusetts and across the country. Concurrent surgery occurs when a surgeon has one patient still in surgery and starts a procedure on another patient. Patients were not informed of the practice.

This month, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee urged hospitals to clearly prohibit the practice.

Whether you have surgery planned or not, now is a good time to review your legal rights as a Massachusetts patient.

Research your doctor online. In Massachusetts, you can research your doctor’s professional history in the Physician’s Profile database on the Massachusetts Board of Registration’s website. This database will answer questions such as:

  • How long the physician has been licensed in Massachusetts.
  • Whether the physician has made a medical malpractice payment in the past 10 years.
  • Whether the physician has had any criminal convictions in the past 10 years.
  • Whether the physician has been subject to hospital or board discipline.

To learn more, we invite you to read our article: “Do You Know Your Doctor’s Safety Record? Find Out Now.”

Massachusetts Patients’ Bill of Rights. Massachusetts General Law c. 111, Sec. 70E details the Patients’ Bill of Rights. As a patient, your rights include the right to participate in the development and implementation of your plan of care and to have a patient advocate with you during treatment. If you are having surgery, we encourage you to bring a patient advocate to take notes and assert your patient rights when needed.

To learn more, we invite you to read our article: “Preventing Medical Errors.”

Your Right to Your Medical Records. Under Massachusetts Law, you have a right to your medical records. Many physicians’ offices will now provide these records online. If you are treated at a hospital, look for the hospital’s website page for its medical records or health information office. This page will explain the rules for requesting medical records and fees charged.

To learn more, we invite you to read our article: “Getting Your Medical Records.”

Concurrent Surgeries. If you are having surgery, you have the right to ask the hospital or medical facility if it uses the practice of concurrent surgeries and if you will be treated by a physician who is responsible for one or more surgeries at the same time.

About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston medical malpractice lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck have over 100 years combined experience handling personal injury and medical malpractice cases at Massachusetts hospitals. Our lawyers have obtained multi-million dollar settlements for patients who have been seriously injured or killed by surgical malpractice and medical errors.

If you have been injured, it is important to learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.





Communication Errors in Medicine Can Have Deadly Effects


Poor communication between doctors and hospital staff hurts patients and causes many deaths, a new study reports. Electronic medical records should improve communication, but doctors are not always reading results.

Communication failures played a role in 30 percent of the medical malpractice cases examined by CRISCO Strategies of Boston. The study was released Monday.

The study reports on roughly a third of all paid medical malpractice claims nationwide, nearly 24,000 cases from 2009 to 2013. Over 7,000 cases involved communication failures which injured patients, including 1,744 resulting in wrongful death.

“Good communication in the medical record or in verbal reports is the hallmark of good medical care. We have seen many preventable deaths and serious injury cases that were the result of communication breakdowns,” Attorney Marc L. Breakstone said.

When Medical Mistakes May Happen

Electronic medical records may get doctors test results more promptly, but the study shows some are not reading them:

  • One woman’s cancer diagnosis was delayed for a full year. Her primary care doctor never read the lab result in her electronic medical record.
  • A patient was rushed to the emergency room and died after his lungs filled with blood. Less than two weeks earlier, his primary care doctor had referred him to a lung doctor. The two doctors failed to communicate about the lab results on the patient’s electronic medical record, which showed possible early congestive heart failure.

Many mistakes – 80 percent – happen as a result of miscommunication when doctors and medical staff transfer patient cases, according to the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare.

Across the country, 32 hospitals are trying to improve communication by adopting the I-PASS approach for how doctors and nurses communicate during shift changes, according to the medical publication STAT. One of these hospitals is Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

What Patients Can Take Away from This Study

Monitor Your Medical Records. If you have the option, monitor your medical records online. You will gain a better understanding of how your doctor and the medical practice approach your care. If you find a mistake, ask for a correction. On the other hand, if you do not have electronic access, remember you have the right to make a written request for medical records at any time.

When Shifts Change. Before the day of a surgery, ask when the surgeons and nurses change shifts. Ask what to expect if your procedure is delayed.

Patient Advocate. Bring someone you trust to your pre-operation appointment and to your procedure. Our article about the Massachusetts Patient’s Bill of Rights may be a helpful resource.

Research Online. Research if your doctor or surgeon has been disciplined or has paid medical malpractice claims in the Massachusetts Board of Registration database. You can also search Medicare’s Hospital Compare database for hospital information, ratings and practices.

Make Your Own Decision. Online databases and electronic medical records are important but make your own decision about your doctor’s communication. Observe their practices firsthand, ask questions and choose another doctor if you are concerned.

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Health Care Costs Rising, But Still No Website for Massachusetts Consumers to Compare Provider Costs

20160127-rising-health-care-costs-300.jpgState officials have not lived up to mandates to maintain a website for consumers to compare pricing for medical procedures and doctor’s visits.

The Boston Globe detailed the problems with the website development this week. Meanwhile, the state’s Health Policy Commission recently released its “2015 Cost Trends Report.” The report noted less competition is driving rising health care costs, not higher quality care or other common measures of value.

Attorney David White, consumer advocate, said, “It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth is failing to get basic information to consumers. Health care costs vary so significantly from provider to provider. Consumers need every bit of help they can get to reduce the costs of care.”

White also said, “A very serious issue is how steeply costs vary between facilities for the same procedures. The report demonstrates that the fancy, expensive hospitals do not, on average, deliver significantly better care.”

The Website
The state’s health care reform law of 2006 required a website be established to inform the public about health care cost and quality of care. The website was also included in 2012 legislation. While there have been websites launched, no website is currently available.

As a result, consumers have no central resource to research the costs of a medical procedure or a doctor’s visit at different medical facilities. Pricing cannot be a factor in their decision-making process. The state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis is still deciding what information to include in the website, The Globe reported.

What Consumers Can Do
Many consumers can access some pricing information through websites developed by their health care plans. Contact your health insurance company by telephone if you cannot find your plan’s site. Insurers were required to launch websites by the state, but only members can access these databases, which may be limited. Even the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans supports a state-run website to validate the information.

Consumers should also be able to contact a hospital or doctor’s office and request pricing in advance. This will take longer than simply searching a website, but it may be worth your time if you are scheduling a medical procedure or tests. Prices and the quality of care vary widely. For example, maternity care for low-risk pregnancies can cost $9,722 some hospitals compared to $18,500 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“You have the right to find out what your procedures will cost,” Attorney White said. “Be an advocate for yourself: Ask to see the price list that the doctors and hospitals are required to provide.”

Read more in the “2015 Cost Trends Report” and The Boston Globe.

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Guidelines Being Considered for “Double-Booked” Surgeries

The American College of Surgeons will consider new guidelines for the practice of concurrent or “double-booked” surgeries after a Boston Globe Spotlight Team report this fall.

The Spotlight Team found many surgeons in Boston and across the country are performing in two operations that overlap in part or their entirety, without the patient’s knowledge or consent. In some cases, doctors have even traveled back and forth to surgeries at different hospitals, leaving patients to wait under anesthesia.

“Patient safety is paramount,” said attorney Marc Breakstone, who has represented clients injured by medical malpractice for 30 years. “It is fundamental that patients have a right to be informed who is performing their surgery. If surgeons are overlapping their schedules, patients must be informed, without exception.”

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team surveyed 47 hospitals nationwide, reporting that 15 percent of surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital are concurrent (of 37,000 surgeries per year). Of these, 1,000 surgeries involve at least one patient with an open incision. At UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, 5 to 10 percent of surgeries are concurrent. The report also included double-booked procedures at other hospitals.

Patients and family members told the Spotlight Team they had no warning that their surgeon may leave during the procedure.

Among them was former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks, who had spinal decompression surgery at MGH in December 2011. Jenks was critical of his care, and in February 2012, told the media his MGH surgical team made an error. As a result, he said he had to undergo another surgery 18 days later in Arizona.

When interviewed this year, Jenks said he had recently learned his surgeon was double-booked during his entire three-hour procedure. In response, MGH told the Spotlight Team the surgeon had been in the operating room during the entire operation and performed properly.

Other Boston Cases
The Spotlight Team reported on cases of concurrent surgeries at hospitals across the country. Two local cases involved Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In 2005, a hand surgeon left Beth Israel during a break from an operation and went to Children’s Hospital, where he was on staff. His lawyer said the doctor experienced difficulties with a medical device involved in his procedure and went to Children’s Hospital to obtain a replacement. While there, he removed a cast for a young patient who wanted to take a trip with his family, the lawyer said.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital case involves a thoracic surgeon who allowed other surgeons to perform a lung surgery, which led to the patient suffering complications. During testimony, the doctor acknowledged that the surgery overlapped with that of another patient. Though the jury sided with the doctor, the federal appeals court ordered a new trial, saying the judge erred by excluding testimony from expert witnesses.

From Our Experience
The Spotlight report reminds us of surgery that was performed on one of our clients at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge in 2002. The surgeon, Dr. David Arndt, left the operating room during complex back surgery. His mission was solely a private one–he needed to cash a check. As a result, he immediately lost his medical privileges and his medical license was revoked. For more details about the $1.25 million recovery we obtained for our client, click here.

Read the Boston Globe Spotlight Team coverage.
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Most Patients Will Receive at Least One Late or Wrong Diagnosis from a Doctor, New Report Says

44783989_s.jpgPatient beware: A new report says most of us will leave a doctor’s office with a diagnosis which is either late or wrong at least once in our lives. This can be life-changing for some, leading to serious injury, handicap or even death.

The report, “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care,” was released this week by the Institute of Medicine, which also published the landmark report, “To Err is Human” in 1999. The 1999 report exposed the fact that approximately 44,000 to 98,000 people were dying in U.S. hospitals each year as a result of medical errors.

The current report focuses on how doctors diagnose patients. The report shared the story of Carolyn, who believed she was suffering a heart attack and visited a hospital emergency room. When she asked her doctor questions, a nurse told her the doctor “doesn’t like to be questioned.” Told she was suffering acid influx, she was released a few hours later. But she was not better; she returned to the ER two weeks later. As she suspected, she had suffered a heart attack and needed surgery to unblock her artery.

The authors say they do not know how many Carolyns are out there. But some estimates are at least 12 million people are being incorrectly diagnosed like this year, or roughly 5 percent of adults who seek outpatient care each year.

They predict more bad news for patients too: Errors will likely increase because of the processes behind how patients are diagnosed, and how health care is being delivered today. The Institute of Medicine recommends health care organizations set up systems to identify diagnostic errors, adopt a non-punitive culture and work as a team.

A few highlights from the report:

  • There are many causes to diagnostic errors, including poor collaboration among physicians, patients and their families.
  • Physicians often receive limited feedback when they make a diagnostic error. In some cases, they never even learn about their error.
  • The medical culture continues to discourage transparency and disclosure of errors.
  • Doctors may still be struggling to learn electronic medical record systems which have been implemented to help eliminate medical mistakes. This may actually be contributing to mistakes.

Read more from the report and its recommendations.

Patient Resource:
Our attorneys have also written an article called “Preventing Medical Errors at Hospitals” which discusses how patients can advocate for themselves and explains the Massachusetts Patients’ Bill of Rights.

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Jury Awards $1.5 Million to Attorney Marc L. Breakstone’s Client in Medical Malpractice Case Against American Medical Response Ambulance Company

Ambulance Crew Dropped Patient from Stretcher onto her Head, Causing 

Fatal Head Injuries and Wrongful Death

American Medical Response, the largest ambulance company in Massachusetts and the United States, has been found responsible for the death of Barbara J. Grimes and awarded her family $1.5 million in wrongful death damages.

The May 4, 2015 verdict followed a two week trial in Middlesex Superior Court.
The jury found that EMTs Wesley Garber and Peter Crowell negligently dropped
Ms. Grimes, a 67 year old dialysis patient on her head while rolling her on a
stretcher which tipped over. The incident occurred on January 31, 2009 in the
parking lot of Fresenius Medical Care in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Photo: Barbara J. Grimes on right, next to her sister Patty Zaccarelli

Comments from the Family and Family Attorney Marc L. Breakstone

According to family attorney Marc L. Breakstone, Barbara Grimes, then 67 years old, was being transported on an ambulance stretcher after receiving dialysis treatment in Plymouth, MA. While rolling the stretcher to the back of the ambulance, the AMR crew carelessly tipped the stretcher over causing Ms. Grimes to strike her head on the pavement. The blow caused a massive brain hemorrhage which took her life 5 days later.

The incident was investigated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
which found numerous clinical deficiencies. AMR was cited by the Massachusetts
Department of Public Health for these deficiencies. During the trial, it was revealed that AMR withheld documents from a state investigator from the Office of Emergency Medical Services, which regulates ambulance services in Massachusetts.

Attorney Breakstone:

“This was an unnecessary death which should have been prevented by simple precautions. If the ambulance crew had only followed company safety policies regarding stretcher operation, it would not have toppled over. This needless death was easily preventable,” Breakstone added.

Breakstone also said “The ambulance crew claimed that the stretcher malfunctioned, but AMR never inspected the stretcher and no defect was ever found. Their explanation was simply not believable and the jury rejected it squarely.”

Family Members:

Peter Zacarelli, Jr., the brother of Ms. Grimes, called his sister’s death “senseless.” He said, “These EMTs should have been more careful. They were not paying attention when they rolled the stretcher sideways without holding it to make sure it did not tip over. It is shocking that they could be so careless. Our family is haunted by this senseless loss. We are so thankful to the jury for seeing through the lies and deceptions of AMR which treated our sister like a sack of discarded trash. After more than six years, the truth finally came out at trial.”

“Barbara was the most caring and loving person you could ever want to meet,” according to her sister Patricia Zacarelli. “She was all about doing for others and taking care of family. It is such a shame that she should die in the hands of EMTs whose job it was to safely transport her home from dialysis,” Ms. Zacarelli stated.

American Medical Response, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is the largest ambulance company in the United States. It has more than 18,000 employees in 40 states, 2100 communities and boasts more than 3 million patient transports in 2014.

View the PDF version.

Background Information About Marc L. Breakstone

Marc BreakstoneMarc L. Breakstone has established a reputation as one of the top personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers in New England. He has been selected as one of the Top 100 Super Lawyers in New England (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013) and one of the Top 100 Super Lawyers in Massachusetts (2006-2014). He has also been selected by
his peers as one of the top medical malpractice plaintiff’s lawyers in the Super Lawyer balloting from 2004 to 2014. In 2002, Mr. Breakstone was honored as one of ten “Lawyers of the Year” in 2002 by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.