The Case for Addressing Medical Errors more seriously

Medical errors do happen and will continue to happen. While I’d like to think that most are not done intentionally, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to put our lives in the hands of doctors. Unless a doctor is in his own practice and not under the thumb of a hospital or a large group that seems to mostly look at numbers, we all need to take responsibility for our own health and how we deal with it. I am not saying that we shouldn’t trust in our doctors, but I am saying that we need to feel free to ask questions and make educated decisions about our care and treatments…especially when there are more than one options. And if a doctor seems to take offense at any questions, this should be a red flag that he/she isn’t the doctor you want.

In today’s world, the personal relationship with a doctor is far less than years ago. Medicine today appears to be “big business”. It is comprised of insurance companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and people/patients…in that order. Gone are the days when you got to see your doctor. Now, you are lucky to see him/her on one of ten visits. Physician assistants have taken over for the doctors as the practices have enlarged. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have encountered several excellent physician assistants, but I still want to see my doctor if my health is such that I need an appointment.

So, now that I have laid out my opinion on how our medical world appears to me, I will address what happens when errors occur. A case in point is about a relative of mine. She was an older woman in her sixties. Earlier in her life, she had experienced a hysterectomy. Age and lack of exercise caused her internal organs to drop down creating a lot of pressure. The answer to this problem is called “suspension” surgery. The organs are lifted up and somehow held into place which alleviates the pressure. It is supposed to take an hour or so. This relative went into this thinking it was routine surgery with a few weeks recovery. When the surgery ended about three hours later, she came out of surgery with a colostomy. No one said a word as to why. Of course, we all thought the worst and that she must have cancer. Feeling frantic and helpless, we insisted on knowing what had happened. The doctor finally told us that there was a questionable spot in her intestines and that he removed a section to be on the “safe” side. In about three weeks, she would be able to go back and have another surgery to reverse the colostomy. She did have the reversal, but the recovery was very slow.

In the meantime, her primary doctor retired. While in a consultation with her new doctor, they talked in his office as he reviewed her health history. He then made a comment saying…”I see in your file that you had a nick in your intestines”. She questioned what he meant. He explained that during her suspension surgery, the surgeon accidentally nicked her intestine. We were all furious that an error had occurred, but more so that we were lied to us about it. I begged this relative to sue the doctor and the hospital, but she nor her husband would even consider it. I said that they were making a big mistake. They didn’t need to sue for money necessarily, but they needed the doctor and the hospital to acknowledge the mistake and the cover up. I further explained that her insurance company paid for not one, but two surgeries. This was outrageous to me. The doctor and the hospital should have been partially responsible for what they did. Unfortunately, there are many people who feel as my relatives did when it comes to the medical profession. They feel the doctors can do no wrong and that they are fully trustworthy. They can’t even acknowledge that a doctor can make a mistake. Again, and unfortunately, we will never know just how often this happens. Nor we will ever know what this has cost you and I in the way of insurance premiums. It appears there is a silent code amongst the various businesses in the medical world. The younger generations are more questioning of these things and are the only hope that change can and will occur for the better.

For those who don’t know, I believe there is a procedure which occurs after a surgery. The doctor dictates all pertinent information of what occurred immediately following surgery. This information includes who was in attendance as well. A hospital administrator oversees all functions within a hospital. So you see, it used to be that doctors were taught to “First, do no harm”. In today’s world, maybe it should say…”what a tangled web we weave, when we “practice” to deceive”. In the meantime, this relative has had ongoing intestinal difficulties due to adhesions which have occurred due to the “two” surgeries. Her insurance is still paying for all health-related issues. There are many excellent, reliable and trustworthy doctors out here, but it takes some work and effort to find them. A standard question to a new Doctor might be…”would you take responsibility for an error you made…even if you could easily hide it?” If more of us were more proactive in our own health-care, perhaps the quality of care might drastically improve!