Patient Safety Awareness Week Time For Patients To Learn

Hospitals need always be accountable for their patient safety efforts. But their successes and failures move into the spotlight next week during Patient Safety Awareness Week.

It’s a good time for the public to learn about the Massachusetts hospitals and medical offices they frequent – and ask how they can better protect themselves from medical malpractice and medical errors. Here are some tips from the Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck:

1) Check Your Doctor’s Medical License. You can learn about a doctor’s safety record before even calling his or her office for an appointment. The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine offers patients the Physician’s Profile online database. Consumers can access a wealth of information from their own computer, including how long a physician has been licensed in Massachusetts and whether a physician has made a medical malpractice payment in the past 10 years.

To visit the Massachusetts Physician’s Profile database, click here.

2) Obtain Your Medical Records. It’s important to obtain a copy of your medical records if you suspect medical malpractice. In Massachusetts, you have an absolute right to get copies, whether you were treated in a doctor’s office or a hospital.

Call the medical provider and request your records. You will have to sign an authorization form that states you authorize the release of records in compliance with HIPPA, a federal law passed to protect confidentiality of medical records.

Request the complete “page-by-page” chart of your medical care. You will have to pay a copying fee so request an invoice beforehand to be prepared.

Most important about requesting your medical records is do it immediately following treatment. Medical malpractice lawyers often see medical records in their cases have been altered, making it harder to prove medical negligence occurred.

To learn more about obtaining your Massachusetts medical records, click here.

3) Consider Asking A Family Member Or Friend To Act As Your Patient Advocate. You should always participate in your own patient care. But when in the hospital, many people can benefit from having a patient advocate watch out for them.

Ask someone close to you to act as your advocate. This person can help you by monitoring medications, being present when physicians make rounds and making sure medical professionals always practice good hygiene. A good patient advocate will also be prepared to ask doctors and nurses questions.

To learn more about the role of patient advocate, click here.

4) Learn About The Massachusetts Patients’ Bill of Rights. Be aware that Massachusetts General Laws include a Patients’ Bill of Rights. Among the protections provided: the right to refuse treatment by students and other staff, the right to refuse participation in research studies and the right to informed consent.

To learn more about the Massachusetts Patients’ Bill of Rights, click here.

5) Work to Prevent Medicine Errors. Medication errors result from use of improper medicine and the improper dosage.

Make sure all your doctors know every medication you take. Bring a written list to each appointment and make your doctors aware of changes since your last visit.

Before leaving a doctor’s office, make sure you know what medicine you are supposed to pick up at the pharmacy and how long you should take it. Write down the name and dose of the medicine, then carefully compare it to the medicine bottles before leaving the pharmacy. Watch closely for unfamiliar abbreviations on medication bottles and whether you are receiving a brand name medicine or generic.

For more tips on how to prevent medication errors, click here for information from the Institute of Medicine.
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Massachusetts Lawyer Alert: A SJC Ruling on Admissibility of Medical Expenses

An important Supreme Judicial Court decision this week affirmed the statutory right for admitting medical bills in Massachusetts courts, but opened the door for rebuttal.

In Law v. Griffith, SJC-10463 (July 20, 2010), Massachusetts’ highest court ruled on a Middlesex Superior Court case involving G.L. c. 233, Sec. 79G. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed an earlier opinion of the Appeals Court, reversed a Superior Court judge and ordered a new trial in a case where the judge improperly restricted evidence of medical expenses.

The high court’s decision provides a window for attorneys to ask judges to tender jury instructions on medical liens.

Read the case and analysis from Breakstone, White & Gluck here.
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Massachusetts Patient Safety Grants Target Medical Liability

Massachusetts and several other states have been awarded $25 million in patient safety grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. The funds will be used to implement medical care reform and establish plans for reducing future errors.

The funding is part of a patient safety and medical liability initiative announced by President Barack Obama in September 2009.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health received funding to involve clinicians, patients, medical malpractice insurers and state officials in a discussion about medical errors and malpractice. The goal is to improve efficiency in all aspects of medical care and reduce medical errors resulting in severe personal injury and death.

The grants were awarded in two categories. Three-year awards of up to $3 million will allow states and health systems to implement and evaluate patient safety and medical liability demonstrations. One-year grants of up to $300,000 are for states and health systems to establish a plan for reviewing patient safety in the future.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: “This new research is the largest government investment connecting medical liability to quality and aims to improve the overall quality of health care.”

The Boston medical malpractice lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck view this grant as a critical move in improving medical care. Each year, 195,000 people die as a result of preventable medical errors and even more sustain life-altering personal injuries.
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Know Your Doctor’s Safety Record

It’s important to know who’s providing your medical treatment and their safety record, but many Massachusetts health care consumers fail to ask the question.

The good news is the information is just a few keystrokes away. The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine offers Massachusetts consumers the Physician’s Profile database right online.

Click here to learn more about what you’ll find on the Massachusetts physician database and for a link to the site.
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Patient Safety Falls Short at Same-Day Surgery Centers, Study Finds

A new federal study found many same-day surgery centers have serious problems with infection control procedures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited 68 centers in Maryland, North Carolina and Oklahoma and found 67 percent of the centers had at least one lapse in infection control. Some 57 percent were cited for deficiencies. The patient safety lapses included failure to wash hands, wear gloves and clean blood glucose meters. Clinics also reused medical devices meant for one person. The study did not examine if the lapses led to patient infections.

The study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, comes as the nation’s 5,000-plus outpatient centers perform more than 6 million procedures and collect $3 billion from Medicare each year.

“This study should be a wake up call to physicians performing relatively minor surgical procedures at walk-in clinics,” according to Boston attorney Marc L. Breakstone. “All surgeons must have zero tolerance for lax infection control procedures, which can expose patients to life-threatening infections.” According to Breakstone, the risks of serious injury to patients from staph and hepatitis infections are as great in the small center as in the large hospital setting.

The study was prompted by a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas believed to be caused by unsafe injection practices at two clinics. The clinics have been closed.

For more information, read this Boston Globe article about infection control problems at US same-day surgery centers.

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Massachusetts Hospitals and Doctors Must Implement Electronic Medical Records Now for Safety

We commend The Boston Globe for highlighting one of the state’s most pressing problems in health care: too many Massachusetts hospitals and physicians are still using paper medical records.

In a May 7th editorial, the Globe rightly pointed out that electronic medical records, “will prevent errors, improve diagnostic work, avoid duplication of tests and procedures, and simplify clinical studies.” The newspaper called on the 63 Massachusetts hospitals not using any computerized systems to make the change now.

“Electronic medical records would be the best medicine for taking care of medical errors,” Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer Marc Breakstone said in response to the editorial.

A 2008 study by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the New England Healthcare Institute found just 10 of the state’s 73 hospitals used a computerized system for doctors’ orders. More alarming was the study found 1 in every 10 patients at six community hospitals in the state suffered from serious medication mistakes.

According to the Institute of Medicine, 50,000 to 100,000 patients nationwide die annually of preventable medical errors.

In addition to offering stimulus-bill help, the federal government is threatening to reduce Medicare payments for doctors who fail to implement electronic medical records by 2015. A 2009 national survey by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that only 1.5 percent of hospitals and 4 percent of doctors’ practices have adopted comprehensive electronic systems.

At Breakstone, White & Gluck, we know firsthand electronic medical records will save lives. Massachusetts hospitals are doing the public they should be serving a great injustice every day they continue to make excuses for not going electronic.

For more information, read The Boston Globe’s editorial.
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