Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reactions to the John Ritter malpractice suit

Blog reactions to the Ritter suit are trickling in. Here are some I found noteworthy.

A post from the New York Personal Injury Law Blog (one I find enjoyable to read, as law blogs go) says, somewhat to my surprise, that:

Suits against emergency departments are very difficult, though not impossible. Jurors will, if given half a chance, give the benefit of the doubt to emergency room physicians, often times even if their own protocols are violated.

Well, that’s news to me. I hope he’s (Eric Turkewitz) right. He reports that jury selection started yesterday. Pretty darn important, that. Unless the media reports are profoundly misleading (and that’s a big “if”) it will be difficult for the plaintiffs to sustain their burden of proof in the eyes of an objective jury. That’s why, in this high stakes legal battle, you can bet, the plaintiff attorneys will be scrambling for passionate, emotion driven, star struck jurors.

Dr. Wes, blogging over at Med Page Today, cites inflated public expectations of medicine:

Unfortunately, our profession has hyped its tools, instruments and outcomes so excessively through magazines, TV advertisements, miraculous TV shows (take "ER" or "House, MD" for instance) and hospital "Top 100" ratings, that the general public has forgotten that we cannot always fix everything or cure everything. To miss a diagnosis of a relatively rare disease (relative to more common disorders) is no longer acceptable in America.

Society expects a zero defect medical system with diagnostic and therapeutic perfection. Dr. Wes notes another lesson from this lawsuit: it is an example of why defensive over testing is done and why medical costs are so high.

Finally, read the comment by The Happy Hospitalist on my February 4 post. He correctly points out that this isn’t malpractice; it’s a matter of differential diagnosis. No matter how strongly the signs, symptoms and test results point to a particular diagnosis the patient could always have something else. Occasional misdiagnosis is inevitable, even by the best, brightest and most careful clinicians. Such misdiagnosis is considered medical error these days, and that’s just plain wrong. It inflates published estimates of medical mistakes and drives unreasonable public expectations.


Ron Miller said...

I would think that you might maybe want to hear the evidence at trial before prejudging the verdict. Obviously, as you know, medical malpractice cases are complex. Media reports are not going to give you the full story which is why if you don't hear the evidence, it will be hard to know which side should prevail. It is worth nothing that many of the defendants have already settled, I understand for about $14 million.

The is a University of Michigan Law Review article you really want to read called Doctor & Juries. A lot of interesting studies about juries and their agreement amongst medical experts and judges. In most medical malpractice cases, doctors are much better served with juries than with medical experts or judges. The law review article reports on some of the studies. I have not seen the underlying studies, some of which are U.S govt studies but they are pretty compelling.

Ron Miller

R. W. Donnell said...

Thank you for your comment. This particular post did not attempt to prejudge the verdict. It was a roundup of blog reactions and a general speculation on jury reactions.

A previous post did not prejudge the verdict either, but raised numerous questions, acknowledging that key facts were unknown. It was full of disclaimers about the poor reliability of newspaper reports.

Patient25 said...

I am the Survivor of a Hospital acquired infection following routine surgery at Providence Saint Joseph. My 2 day stay turned into two months, six surgeries, almost losing my leg, 12 months of home nursing and I'm still healing.

The Hospital's position is that I must have had Man-eating flesh disease when I came in the door. It's sad that the jury was probably basing their decision on giving 67 Million. Wonder if they knew Providence spent 151 million on three meditation gardens and a KOI pond?