Articles Tagged with doctor

A man who was injured by a driver who suffered a seizure due to his brain tumor could not sue the driver’s neurologist for allegedly failing to warn him not to drive, or for otherwise failing to control his driving.

On December 21, 2001, the plaintiff suffered serious personal injury when he was struck by a car operated by the defendant driver. The driver had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in September 2000 after he had suffered a grand mal seizure. The tumor was malignant and inoperable.

The driver waited six months before he began driving again, as required by Massachusetts law. His treating neurologist, Frederick Hochberg, M.D. of Massachusetts General Hospital, allegedly did not attempt to prevent his patient from driving again and did not warn him not to drive. 

After he was hurt, the plaintiff sued the driver’s estate (the driver had passed away). He also brought a medical negligence claim against Dr. Hochberg. The plaintiff claimed that Dr. Hochberg owed a general duty to the public who might be injured due to the nature of the underlying medical condition that he was treating. The plaintiff argued that the duty rose from the special relationship between a physician and a patient. The plaintiff argued that general negligence principles created a duty in Dr. Hochberg to warn his patient of the dangers of driving while suffering from the brain tumor. The Supreme Judicial Court rejected both arguments.

The court found that this doctor-patient relationship was not a “special relationship” which would give rise to a duty to prevent harm to a third person. Absent such a special relationship, the court said, “there is no duty to control another person’s conduct to prevent that person from causing harm to a third party.”

In 2007, the court had found, in Coombes v. Florio, 450 Mass 182 (2007), that a physician may have a duty to warn his or her patient about the side effects of medication being prescribed. The court ruled that this duty extended to third parties who might be injured if the warning had not been given. But the court refused to extend that ruling to include medical conditions under treatment.

The Coombes case was seen by the court as a very narrow exception to the general rule that a physician owes no duty to third parties who might be injured by a patient. The court stated that the duty sought by the plaintiff would “impose on physicians an affirmative duty … to nonpatients to warn patient of the risks of driving due to any underlying medical condition. We conclude this is an unwarranted and ill-advised expansion of liability for several reasons.”

The main concern of the court was that the physician did not do anything to increase the likelihood of harm by the patient, compared to the physician who might be liable for prescribing medication and thus creating additional risk. The court also believed that further imposition of duty would intrude on the doctor-patient relationship and might increase collateral costs. 

This case represents the second time the court has stated that it will not be expanding the duty recognized in the Coombes case.  At least that narrow exception survived.

The case is Medina v. Hochberg, SJC-11178 (May 13, 2013).

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that non-patient claims for personal injury resulting from medical malpractice must first be presented to the Massachusetts medical malpractice tribunal.  The tribunal’s job is to review medical malpractice personal injury claims and decide whether there was actual medical malpractice involved or if the injury was merely an unfortunate medical result.

The decision concerned a hospital worker who was killed when a heavily medicated woman lost control of her car and drove it into an entrance to the Brockton Hospital where the victim worked.  The victim’s wife sued the doctors for her husband’s wrongful death, alleging they had failed to warn the woman that it was dangerous to drive while on her medications.

Ordinarily, medical negligence cases may only be brought by a patient against his or her medical provider. However, third parties may bring claims against a provider if the provider failed to warn the patient of the effects of medication, and the patient then injured the third party. The exception is a narrow one.

The case clarifies pre-trial procedures in such third party cases, as it was unclear whether or not an injured non-patient was required to bring their medical malpractice claim before the tribunal.  However, with today’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling, it is now clear that any person looking to bring a claim for personal injury resulting from medical malpractice must first present their claim to the medical malpractice tribunal, whether or not they were the patient.

The case was Vasa v. Compass Medical, P.C., SJC-10457, March 2, 2010.

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Anne Mitchell, a nurse from west Texas, was acquitted today for filing a complaint with the Texas Medical Board (TMB) alleging that a doctor she worked with was endangering his patients. Mitchell had filed an anonymous complaint that an emergency room physician, Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital, had been improperly prescribing medications and doing surgical procedures when he had no surgical privileges.

Rather than being recognized as a whiste-blower concerned about the health and welfare of the patients, she was actually arrested and charged with the crime of “misuse of official information,” which is a felony in Texas.

The trial took four days, but the jury needed less than an hour to acquit Nurse Mitchell.

In a recent article in the medical journal Radiology, a study of several hundred radiologists reveals that mammographers may be reluctant to reveal medical mistakes, even if the mistakes relate to potential risk of breast cancer.

In the study the radiologists were given a hypothetical question. They were asked to assume that films were read out of order; that the calcifications in the films were actually increasing and not decreasing, and that they discovered the mistake after initially reading and reporting the results to their patients. Calcifications may be associated with the growth of breast tumors.

Only 14% of the physicians said they would definitely disclose the error. Twenty-six percent said they would probably report the error. The rest would either disclosed the error only if asked by the patient, or not at all.

In the hypothetical conversations with the patients after the mistake was revealed, only 15% of the doctors polled would admit that they made a mistake during the reading of the films.

Failure to diagnose breast cancer due to mammography errors is a common cause of medical malpractice claims, and almost half of the doctors in the study had been party to a suit alleging negligence.

The authors concluded that even though there is a trend towards more physician openness regarding mistakes, disclosure is “the exception, not the rule.”


Radiology: Radiologists reluctant to disclose mammo errors to patients. October 30, 2009.


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If you are traveling on an airplane, you can be comforted by the fact that the pilots and co-pilots run through pre-flight and pre-landing checklists designed to prevent accidents and injuries. So wouldn’t you think the same techniques would be used in hospitals for critical surgical procedures? Well. . . not necessarily.

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine today, researchers demonstrated that the use of a simple checklist for surgical procedures cuts the rate of complication by 36%. The checklist reduced the rate of infection, wrong site surgery, the need for re-operation, post-operative complications, and death. The study demonstrated improvements in each of the eight countries involved in the study. If implemented properly, the number of injuries and wrongful deaths caused by medical malpractice would decline.

The authors report that roughly half of surgical complications are avoidable. The authors utilized a 19-step checklist to improve verification, to require surgical team members to introduce themselves and share patient concerns, to verify antibiotic coverage, and to document concerns regarding the post-operative recovery period.  The first part of the list is designed to reduce wrong patient, wrong operation, wrong site complications which are still remarkably common. Requiring the team members to introduce themselves to each other increased teamwork and also reduced mistakes.

With such obvious improvements so readily available, one would think that hospitals and doctors would be jumping quickly onto this bandwagon. Not necessarily. Why not? Would a little more paperwork and a little extra time cut into profits? When patients’ lives, health and safety are at stake, one would hope that hospitals would instead rush to implement these guidelines immediately. Implementing checklists are clearly one way to reduce injuries, death, and medical malpractice claims.

What you can do: The 19-step checklist has been been published on-line by the World Health Organization. Print a copy for yourself, and if you are going to be having surgery, make sure your doctors use either your form, or are already using one just like it.
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Thanks to an excellent series of articles in the Boston Globe, we now have some clear insight into what is driving the unconscionable increases in health insurance in Massachusetts: Secret agreements between the Partners HealthCare system and insurance companies. And while doctors and their insurance companies are quick to blame medical malpractice cases for exploding health care costs, the real increases can easily be blamed on the profit-driven expansion at Partners and increases in profits for insurance companies.

As the Globe has reported in a series of articles on the power and growth of Partners, the hospital corporation is now so large and powerful that it can freely bully insurance companies. The first up, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which freely agreed to the demands of Partners in a “gentlemen’s agreement” sealed with a handshake. A handshake? Yup, their lawyers were apparently too nervous to put the deal in writing.

The result: an increase of 70% in Blue Cross insurance rates over the last eight year. Not surpisingly, their profits have soared. If you are like most Massachusetts residents, you have not seen pay increases approaching anything like that. And most hospitals that compete with the Partners affiliates have not seen similar increases, instead suffering blows to their bottom lines.

Everyone knows about the hazards associated with falling asleep at the wheel of a car. Workers are told not to operate heavy equipment if tired or impaired. We all have first hand experience with the effects of sleep deprivation on clarity of thought and reaction time. Would you knowingly put your life in the hands of someone who is at the end of a 30-hour shift? Would you feel confident in the judgments of a young doctor in training who has just put in an 80 hour work week? Well, if you have received treatment at a major teaching hospital in Massachusetts or anywhere in the country, you probably have already done this.

You have probably already seen this reality depicted on popular television shows like Grey’s Anatomy or ER showing the impossibly long shifts and adrenaline-pumping situations medical residents must face each week. Of course the show’s writers throw in a lot of extra drama, but real medical residents do typically work 80-hour weeks that include 30-hour shifts–sometimes with little or no sleep.

Medical residency programs are designed to be rigorous, to prepare doctors for difficult situations and to expose them to as many medical procedures as possible over their 3-7 years in residency. There are teaching hospitals throughout Massachusetts, including Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Cambridge, Waltham, and Framingham.

The Massachusetts Medical Society has published a report suggesting that doctors in Massachusetts are ordering thousands of tests as a result of “defensive medicine.” As a result, the Society argues, health care costs in Massachusetts are increasing unnecessarily. The Society also argues that in order to trim these rising costs, medical malpractice reforms are necessary.

These claims have, of course, been made before. For over twenty years doctors have been claiming that malpractice claims have driven them to excessive testing. However, independent analysis in 2004 at the Congressional Budget Office found the evidence that defensive medicine was contributing to soaring insurance costs to be “weak and inconclusive.” And, as Marc Breakstone, a member of the firm of Boston medical malpractice firm of Breakstone, White & Gluck, PC, pointed out in the Boston Globe today, managed care and utilization review reduce medically unnecessary tests.

Ronald Gluck, another member of the Massachusetts malpractice firm, Breakstone, White & Gluck, P.C., explained to the National Law Journal that there were serious questions about the survey data. He also pointed out that many tests must be approved by insurance companies, which help reduce unnecessary testing.

There are, of course, other sides to this story. Physicians who order more tests may be increasing their own revenues by billing for the tests.  And hopefully, the extra testing has some benefit for patients, who can be reassured when conditions are actually ruled out.

The claims of the Medical Society are quite stark. They report that 83% of the doctors they surveyed reported practicing some level of defensive medicine. The report also indicates 18-28% of tests and procedures, and 13% of hospitalizations were ordered to avoid lawsuits.
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When your doctor makes a mistake, it is only fair to expect to get a truthful explanation about what happened. After all, there is the Patient Bill of Rights under state

and federal law. There are professional ethics. And then there is plain old human decency. All of them tell us that our physicians and other medical

practitioners should quickly tell you about any mistakes they made, especially if your medical treatment is affected.

If you believe you have suffered personal injury due to medical error, it is essential that you promptly obtain your medical records. Under Massachusetts law, you have the right to get a copy of your hospital and physician records.  The procedures is not complex, though sometimes there can be delays.

For details on how and why you should get you records after you may have suffered an injury due to medical malpractice, please read our detailed article on our medical malpractice web page.

What Should You Do If You Have A Medical Malpractice Case?

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