Michael Townes Watson

Huge Price Paid for Stupid, Careless Medical Error

A woman who had both breasts removed in error because of a biopsy result that was later found not to be hers, appeared on Good Morning America this week, and talked about her story. Darrie Eason, a 35 year old woman from Long Island, New York, had a double mastectomy after a tissue sample from a lab based in New York came back positive for breast cancer. Doctors later told her she did not have breast cancer and “never did”, she said on the TV program.

Apparently there was a “lab mix up”. The New York State health department reported that Eason’s biopsy sample had been mislabeled at CBLPath Inc’s laboratory in Rye Brook, said a report on ABC News. Eason has filed a lawsuit against the laboratory, CBLPath, who are headquartered in Ocala, Florida, for an undisclosed sum, according the Associated Press.

There are two major questions that arise in my mind when I read a story such as this. First—how can the public hear such a story and still support laws capping damages at levels that undermine the injured patients’ access to the justice system? Second—how many other stories of injured medical malpractice victims go untold? When we know that there are nearly 200,000 people killed every year by avoidable hospital errors, over 1.5 million injuries every year due to medication errors, and 90,000 people who die every year as a result of hospital-acquired infections, how is it that so many stories go unreported?

While the plight of Darrie Eason is unthinkable, tens of thousands of people besides her also have unthinkable tragedy in their lives and the lives of their loved ones, but the stories are not told. What is tragic is that thousands of cases, unthinkable and heart-stopping cases of loss and degradation never make it to the courthouse steps and never get judged by a jury of human peers. These cases are never brought because the insurance companies have successfully blamed malpractice suits for the high cost of healthcare and the public has bought their propaganda.

We must all remain vigilant to the propaganda of the insurance companies. They will continue in their fight to maintain their premiums at rates sufficient to give their CEO’s the unconscionable salaries. They will continue to distort the facts at the expense of the injured victims until we all wake up to the true facts.

Michael Townes Watson, author of America’s Tunnel Vision—How Insurance Propaganda Is Corrupting Medicine and Law.

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Posted at 10:13 AM, Oct 05, 2007 in Damage Caps | Medical Errors | Medical Malpratice
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It is easy to focus on "INSURANCE COMPANIES" as the "evil entitity". I agree that there needs to be insurance reform but it is so important to look at what is happening with medicine right now.

This is an example of medicine in America right now. A patient has a bad headache and does not have insurance. Because of the bad headache which is a migraine, they go to the ER. There the ER doc feels that the patient has a migraine and would normally give phenergan, he worries about lawsuits for other rare things and orders a ct scan. ($1900.00). This is normal. It is then necessary to get a spinal tap to r/o meningitis because the patient has photophobia, which is also part of a migraine. Cost of spinal tap ($900.00). The patients original headache is now better but they have a lingering headache from the spinal tap which requires a blood patch. ($2000.00). So, a patient with a migraine goes to the ER and gets a complication and a bill for over $5000 that the hospital recovers by its charges on those other patients with insurance.

Now, look at the numbers. Because of his exam the doctor was certain that this was a migraine and could have just given phenergan. It is shown that by exam alone he would be right 99% of the time. This is not good enough in a court of law. Therefore he orders more tests and procedures, each with their own risk and complications. The math is easy, the more procedures, the more complications, the more things that can go wrong. Was the doctor doing what is best for the patient? No, the best thing would be to not expose the patient to additional risk of the additional procedure.

This is a real case and shows that we have now shifted the "standard of care" to order more and more tests and as a result have caused more complications. Why is this happening? Because every doctor is scared of lawsuits. Are lawsuits improving medicine? No, they are opening patients up to more risk. Do lawsuits help the insurance companies? They sure do! Not the medmals but the health insurance companies. The more tests that are ordered means that United Health can charge more next year and make more on the overhead as well as on the interest of the mony they hold until people meet their deductables.

We need insurance reform as "Insurance is the economics of medicine", but don't think that all insurance is behind tort reform. If there is less defensive medicine, there will be less healthcare expenditure, which means lower insurance premiums.

Don't think that lawsuits have improved medicine either. Remember that every patient with chest pain that hits the ER in many places gets a cardiac cath which has a risk of severe complications or death of 1/1000. Many of these complications and deaths are unnecessary because they did not need to be done.

To fix healthcare it is essential to understand its economics. You cant sit back and ignore the effects of litigation on the whole picture. In the meantime, there will always be money to be made in lawsuits for complications of surgeries, procedures and tests that did not need to be ordered expect for protection from other lawsuits. Don't help insurance companies make more money.

Posted by: throckmorton | October 5, 2007 11:11 AM

This is yet another progaganda article by someone who does not have a clue about what happens on a daily basis in the world.

Sure we can focus on the few, rare istances where things go wrong, BUT what about the MILLIONS of patients who are treated right every year by Labs, hospitals and Doctors. Unfortunately, we are human beings who are not perfect. Human errors do occur. It is an unfortunate thing that happens in life and noone wants to be that less than 1/1000000 of a patient who suffers due to a mistake. The problem is that most people are ignorant to what actually happens in a hospital, lab Dr. offices and we treat Doctors like Gods. They are human also and prone to mistakes.

Best advice I can give is, if you have any kind of diagnosis that includes removing ANY PART OF YOUR BODY, get a second opinion and a second biopsy.

In the case of the double masectomy, the surgeon should have compared her history, with her x rays and previous tests along with the biopsy results. Any competent Doctor would have realized things did not make sense and should have concluded there was something wrong with the test. Her medical history should have alerted her Doctor and precautions, like a second biopsy should have been performed. I am not blaming the patient, but patient lack of knowlege and the Doctors gnorance had costly results.

IN ADDITION, to put things in perspective, THERE IS NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO TO AVOID MISTAKES. Every lab, hospital, treatment center has protocols to ensure patient safety. However, there is nothing anyone one can do (Except GOD himself) to stop any lab tech from making mistakes. Training, supervision is important but ultimately, even ALBERT EINSTEIN himself, if careless, could do a mistake. Please stop trying to get all of these people to jump on your side when you yourself MR. WATSON have no clue.

Posted by: IN THE BIZ | October 5, 2007 6:12 PM

Throckmorton says "this is a real case." It is not clear whether he means it is a real case of a patient or a real case in a court of law. If this case were in a court of law, it has no business being there, and that is where reform of the legal system should be had. When I was practicing law and teaching law, that is a case that would not have ever been filed. So, if it is a real case of a doctor doing something that he is doing because he is afraid of a lawsuit, then maybe that doctor is scared of something that he should not be afraid of. The errors in medicine of which I speak are not from my statistics--they are from the institutes of medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine. Most cases are brought over real errors, as judged by the experts in medicine, not "experts for hire" in the legal system. NEJM found that there are more often frivolous defenses than there are frivolous claims. The insurance companies are not friends of the doctors or the patients. When everyone wakes up to this, maybe the rest of us can work together to fix the system.

As for the comment of "The Biz" I would like to see any insurance company that would be willing to pay for the second opinion he claims should have been gotten. Rather ironic that he says that "any competent doctor" would realized that there was something wrong with the test. In fact, the lawyers who took the case did not sue any doctors (so much for the theory that lawyers just sue everybody). They only sued the lab because the screwup was not one that a second opinion would have caught. So, don't tell me that I do not know what I am talking about. I wonder where you get your clue from? What is your vast experience upon which you rely to state your opinions? Happy to talk to you if you wish. My contact info is available to you.

Posted by: michael townes watson | October 6, 2007 10:48 AM

NEJM found that there are more often frivolous defenses than there are frivolous claims

Which NEJM study you are referring to?

Posted by: Anirban | October 6, 2007 4:22 PM

The study was published in the NEJM on May 11, 2006. It is cited as "David M. Studdert, Michelle Mello, et al. “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice
Litigation,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 11, 2006."

You may email me if you have difficulty finding it.

Posted by: Michael Townes Watson | October 8, 2007 9:26 AM

Well I have that study . Just look at the Figure on P.2028 you are referring to →
1. 145 out of 515 cases involving no error → were resolved at a average amount of $313,205 . Harvard people ornaments this with cognitive distortions like “resolved appropriately” and “fairly small” . Hell it is a lot of money and don’t tell me someone wont play it if running the hit is 1 in 4
2. 236 out of 889 cases involving documented error got nothing → bad for the plaintiffs , but it is ~ 27% . How come the nonpayment in the meritorious case trumps the payment in non-meritorious cases and where is the frivolous defence?

Posted by: Anirban | October 9, 2007 8:51 AM