The medical professionals in our lives have a duty to provide thorough and responsible care. Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon to fall victim to injury due to mistakes by our caregivers. Research published by Johns Hopkins University shows that 10% of all US deaths occur due to medical error. Whether you’re under the care of a doctor, nurse, EMT, or other caregiver, it’s important to know what might cause these errors and how to protect yourself or a loved one from falling victim to poor healthcare in Indiana.
Have you or a loved one been injured as a result of caregiver negligence? Every Indiana medical malpractice lawyer at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell has experience and can help you explore your options.
Indiana Caregiver Negligence in an Ambulance
During a health-related emergency, a patient’s first encounter with medical professionals may not be with doctors or nurses. When time is of the essence there’s a good chance you or a loved one may be first transported to a hospital via ambulance. There they will be under the care of an emergency medical technician (EMT) or their more highly educated colleagues, paramedics. Though we typically think of doctors when discussing malpractice, the fact is that negligence can also occur in an ambulance. EMT and paramedics have a duty of care, the same as a doctor or nurse might. This means they need to provide a reasonable standard of care when performing any sort of action. Here are some situations in which injury or death could be the fault of an EMT, paramedic, or ambulance driver.
1. Ambulance Crashes
As emergency vehicles, ambulances are given automatic right-of-way to ensure a quick trip to the hospital or medical center. Though they do have flashing lights and blare a loud siren, operators still have to drive defensively. Recent studies showed there are an average of 4,500 traffic crashes involving an ambulance per year, with 34% resulting in injuries (and 33 fatalities) during the same time period. What’s even more concerning is that during these crashes only 33% of patients were properly secured with shoulder and lap restraints. It’s understandable paramedics may feel rushed to get a patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. However, they’re still expected to get there safely.
2. Not Responding in Enough Time
EMTs and paramedics are called to a scene when it’s thought that simply driving is not quick enough for a person experiencing a medical emergency. If an ambulance fails to arrive in time to save a patient, this could be viewed as negligence. This is particularly true if testimonies from doctors or those at the scene confirm that there was an inordinate waiting time or any lack of urgency from the EMTs and paramedics once they arrived on scene.
3. Incorrect Diagnosis
Though EMTs are well-trained to provide adequate care, they are not licensed doctors. They may be highly experienced, but they have not been educated and certified to make diagnoses. The only duty of an EMT is to check for and treat any injuries that may be life threatening and safely get the patient to the hospital where they can receive care from an actual doctor. If an EMT goes above and beyond this duty and is then wrong, they could be liable for negligence.
4. Incorrect Spine and Neck Stabilization
Another important question for first responders is whether they should attempt stabilization of neck and spine, particularly after a bad accident. While the first instinct may be to immediately stabilize a victim or place a C-collar around their neck, there is some debate as to the efficacy of these procedures. This is especially true when time is of the essence, as a study shows that stabilizing the neck can take up to five minutes, and may result in life threatening delays to resuscitation. Additionally, these can also worsen spinal injuries or lead to additional issues like breathing problems. First responders need to adhere to spinal stabilization NEXUS guidelines and only use them for extraditing victims from crashes, or if otherwise directed.
5. Incorrectly Securing Patient Inside Ambulance
Additional injury can occur if the victim is not properly secured into the gurney before leaving the scene. These come with important harnesses that must be secured firmly in order to prevent the individual from falling from the gurney.
6. Improper Medication Usage
Though EMTs must refrain unless directly ordered by a doctor, a paramedic often uses medication to treat symptoms during transportation. However, it’s the duty of both EMTs and paramedics to ensure no complications or allergies exist with the patient. For example, the depressant effects of blood thinners or painkillers can quickly increase when combined with other similar drugs. Overall, emergency responders need to first confirm that giving a patient a drug will not cause further harm to the person’s health. It’s also their responsibility to give the correct dosage in the right time frame. Lastly, they should inform admitting staff at the hospital of all the medicines that were given in the ambulance.
7. Providing Incorrect Information to Hospitals
Once the patient has arrived, EMTs or paramedics still must make sure the doctors have accurate and full information. It’s vital that they’ve documented the incident properly and that they give the doctors and nurses any relevant detail. This includes any complaints regarding location of pain or general awareness of the patient during the ambulance ride.
8. Ambulance Not Stocked
This instance applies most specifically to privately-owned ambulances, as they’re not overseen by a large hospital or medical facility. For these vehicles to be a safe place, there is a long list of requirements for what they keep onboard. This would include ventilation and airway equipment, an automated external defibrillator (AED), immobilization devices like a back or head board, and a variety of bandages and sterilization tools. Negligence can also occur with the presence of empty oxygen tanks. These need to be checked and filled regularly.
When you think of a medical malpractice lawsuit, most people imagine doctors as the accused party. Doctors prescribing the wrong drug, administering too high of a dosage, misdiagnosing an issue…any number of factors could lead a doctor to a malpractice lawsuit.
Indiana Retail Clinic Laws and Best Practices
A “retail clinic” is a walk-in medical clinic located in a pharmacy, supermarket, or other retailer. These clinics provide preventive care and treat minor illnesses. Three-fourths of retail clinics are in the Midwest and South, meaning patients in Indiana have probably at least seen one at a CVS, Target, Kroger, or other retailer. While the quality of care at these clinics should be comparable to any other medical provider, this may only be true for certain conditions. Here’s more information about what issues are commonly treated at these clinics and the standards and laws that they must follow.
Who and What Gets Treated at a Retail Clinic?
A 2016 study by RAND Corporation examined all retail clinics in the US. The largest group of patients at retail clinics were adults age 18-44, 43 percent of patients. By comparison, only 23 percent of this age group went to a primary care doctor in 2016. This shows that for many, these retail clinics are an answer to the need for minor care. 90 percent of visits to a retail clinic were for preventive care, or for one of these ten simple issues:
- upper respiratory infection
- sinus infections (sinusitis)
- sore throat
- inner ear infections
- swimmer’s ear
- pink eye (conjunctivitis)
- urinary tract infections
- need for immunizations
- need for blood test
In the RAND study, a group of Minnesota retail clinics actually performed better than their local emergency departments at treating middle ear inflammation, sore throat, and urinary tract infections.
Retail Clinic Standards in Indiana
The State of Indiana does not license retail clinics. This means that individuals with a complaint against the clinic may not be advocated for by the Indiana State Department of Health. However, all employees of the clinics must be appropriately trained and licensed. Retail clinics must also comply with both State and Federal health codes.
Retail clinics are often staffed by non-physician medical practitioners like nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and physician’s assistants. In Indianapolis, Community Health Network has partnered with Walgreens to administer and staff their in-store clinics. This creates a bridge between the retail clinic and a larger health system. But even with that support, the facilities at these clinics may not be adequate to treat a serious illness or injury. In those cases, the caregiver must tell you their limits and refer you to a specialist or emergency room.
During and After a Retail Clinic Visit
If you choose to visit a retail clinic, remember to ask for documentation of your visit to keep on record. This should include your issue, the diagnosis, and a description of the prescribed treatment. That includes any medications or after-care instructions you are given. If your injury or illness gets worse, or it turns out you were misdiagnosed, you will need those records. This will be essential information for any other physicians you work with, as well as an attorney if you suspect negligence was a factor.
Retail clinics have been shown to increase the likelihood that people will seek care for conditions or issues they might otherwise ignore. This brings more people into contact with caregivers than ever before. That means more individuals need to understand these important points and have the ability to self-advocate.
Nurse Negligence in Indiana
Something few think of, however, is that nurses may be to blame for a mistake. Nurses are often the ones who handle the actual care of a patient. While the doctor prescribes drugs, dosages, and treatments, it’s often on the nurse to administer those treatments. If the nurse fails to tend to a patient properly, or administers the wrong type or dosage of a drug, the results can be devastating—perhaps even fatal.
Errors by Indiana Nurses
There are various situations in which a simple mistake can lead to a terrible result (several are outlined in the article linked above). From not recognizing that a patient needs immediate care, improper care of a patient which leads to bed sores, to administering an incorrect drug or dosage during a procedure, these little mistakes can lead to horrible outcomes. Other situations may include:
- Failure to adequately monitor a patient
- Dispensing medication to the wrong patient
- Failure to follow a doctor’s orders
- Performing procedures improperly or without adequate training
- Providing the doctor with incorrect information
Nurses are a valuable part of medical care, but they must be held to the same standard that we expect of doctors. When we entrust our lives to medical professionals, we are putting great responsibility in their hands. Avoidable mistakes and neglect cannot be accepted as human error.
Sexual Abuse by Physicians
The idea of being sexually abused by a trusted caregiver like a doctor is so off-putting that some victims may not even fully process that they’ve been assaulted. Whether it’s a series of unwelcome sexual observations or advances, misconduct masked as part of a medical exam, or a blatant physical assault, the question of if and when an incident of abuse occurred at the hands of a doctor can haunt victims and their families for years. While it’s never the fault of the victim when an assault is committed, there are red flags to look out for if you suspect misconduct toward yourself or another patient has occurred.
1. Secrecy/Dismissal of Patient Opinion
Just like any sexual predator, a doctor who abuses their patients relies on their patients’ silence to allow them to continue. For doctors, however, this silence can be easier to ensure. Ultimately, the trust between a patient and a doctor is what defines their relationship, so it can be difficult to know when it’s appropriate to question a doctor’s practice, or insist upon not removing certain articles of clothing at a doctor’s request. Patients should know that any time they are receiving a pelvic exam, they have the right to ask for a third person like a nurse or a family member to be in the room.
If a victim of assault confronts their doctor about the mistreatment, the doctor might dismiss their concerns as a lack of understanding. If they refuse to justify or explain their behavior to you, then this is a red flag. If you’re a parent, it’s also always a red flag if the doctor asks you to leave the room during your child’s appointment.
2. Asking for Non-Relevant Information or Acts
While we can’t necessarily always know what information a doctor needs to do their job, in most cases they absolutely do not need to know more than the basics about a patient’s sexual history, and they certainly shouldn’t ask intrusive questions about sexual preferences, likes, dislikes, and so on. The same applies to asking patients to remove clothing. A doctor usually does not need patients to remove clothing to perform routine checks like blood pressure or listening to the heart, unless it’s a very thick sweater or the like.
In short, trust your instincts, and if you feel uncomfortable say so. Most doctors have good intentions and will find a way to achieve their goal without causing you discomfort.
It isn’t just a failure to disclose information that can serve as a red flag—if a doctor gets angry or defensive when questioned about their behavior during an appointment, it might be because they feel they have something to hide.
After the sexual abuse has happened, patients might feel powerless against their abuser. However, there are several steps to take to seek justice.
4. Document the Incident
First, write down everything you remember about the incident, or if writing is too painful for you or the victim, try recording a statement instead. Details like what the attacker said to the patient, what type of violation took place, and other evidence will be essential to bring them to justice.
5. State Medical Board
A good next step is to report the incident to your state’s medical board. The medical board is the group that licenses doctors to practice medicine and that can punish them professionally after misconduct is discovered
6. Call the Police
While the medical board can revoke a doctor’s license to practice medicine, if they have committed a criminal act only the police can pursue that justice. Contact them to file a report and even press charges against the doctor if the police agree there’s evidence to warrant them.
Medical Malpractice Due to the Bacterial Risks of Medical Scopes
Medical scopes used to explore areas like the digestive tract and pancreas for blockages are causing serious contamination and infection issues across the US. At least 300 patients have been sickened by or died from infections spread by these scopes. Between 2010 and 2015 more than 41 US hospitals reported cases of infections spread by scopes.
Lawsuits in these cases allege that the scopes are so complex they cannot be cleaned. This means that bacteria in the scope evolve and grow between procedures, leading in some cases to infections caused by “superbugs” which are extremely antibiotic resistant. The CDC estimates that some 23,000 people a year die from antibiotic-resistant infections.
Two people died from and five were infected by a superbug at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in August of 2016. Neither the hospital nor the scope’s manufacturer are willing to take blame, though the company which produces the scopes, Olympus Corporation of the Americas, has since re-emphasized that manual cleaning of the scopes is necessary. The FDA has warned hospitals that scopes are perhaps too complex to be cleaned adequately at all.
Medical Malpractice from Menopause Misdiagnosis
Women entering menopause often have no idea what changes to expect in their body, meaning typical symptoms can be scary. However, they can also be caused by issues other than menopause. Because menopause changes lots of things in a woman’s body, it’s not uncommon for doctors to misdiagnose more serious conditions as symptoms of menopause. Here are some of the issues that are often mistaken for menopause.
1. Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer affects more than 23,000 American women a year. Eighty percent of them won’t know they have ovarian cancer until it’s stage III or IV. In large part that’s because the disease’s early symptoms are so generic: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and a frequent need to urinate. These symptoms are also consistent with menopause, or women might just ignore them because they think they’re gaining weight or just aging. Doctors urge women who experience the onset of all these symptoms at once to get insistent about further testing for ovarian cancer. That usually means an ultrasound or exploratory surgery to examine the ovaries directly.
2. Thyroid Issues
Because hormones are imbalanced during menopause, symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism might be overlooked by a doctor when prescribing treatments. Symptoms like fatigue, depression, mood swings, and sleep disturbances are all symptoms of menopause, but they’re also symptoms of thyroid problems. In 2015 the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) found that only one in four women who had discussed menopause with her doctor was also tested for thyroid disease. That means 75% of women might be able to better manage their hormone balance and control symptoms like joint and muscle pain, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and headaches—but don’t even know it.
Olgiomenorrhea is essentially the condition of having light or infrequent menstrual cycles, and at some point during menopause, every woman has it. However, this condition can also be cause by thyroid imbalances like we discussed above, many different reproductive cancers, and even pituitary tumors.
Women entering menopause, or whose doctors tell them they are, should consider starting to track both their periods and the frequency of their symptoms. This will help you see patterns and notice if and when changes occur. Make sure you tell your doctor all these symptoms so they can figure out the best treatments.
Have you been injured as a result of medical malpractice? Every Indiana medical malpractice lawyer at Christie Farrell Lee & Bell has experience and can help you explore your options.