In 2015, 253 people in Pennsylvania died under circumstances for which a medical professional may have been responsible based upon the reporting of designated safety officers of medical facilities to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. This is an increase from the 208 deaths reported in 2014 but down from the number of deaths reported in 2005-453!
Per State Law, each medical facility must designate a patient safety director and establish a system to report the following:
1. Incidents – an event which could have injured the patient
2. Serious Incident – an event that does injure or kill a patient
In 2015, 239,000 incidents and 7,700 serious incidents were reported.
But if you want to find out how your local hospital is performing related to these reported events, you can’t. State law mandates that all documents produced the Patient Safety Authority are confidential. Confidentiality serves to encourage reporting of mistakes which in turn will help promote patient safety.
It is also confidential information whether the State has ever taken any corrective action regarding a serious event. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reviews reports of infrastructure failure and serious events reported to the Patient Safety Authority. It looks for evidence of whether state or federal law was broken. We don’t know, and can’t know, how many investigations are conducted per year nor what the results were.
In my last blog “Why Victims of Medical Mistakes Are Rarely Compensated“, I explained that a lawsuit was the only effective means of attempting to hold a medical facility or physician publicly accountable for injury or death negligently caused to a patient, and that many cases are not pursued because the costs involved require the damages caused to be extraordinary and that most cases are won by the physician or hospital.
In the entire state of Pennsylvania there are less than 200 cases of medical negligence brought to trial each year and an average of about 1,500 new lawsuit filings or about 20% of the total number of serious events reported confidentially.
These statistics reveal two things:
1. An excessive number of lawsuits against medical professionals are not being filed
2. Many victims of malpractice are not able to seek redress
As I explained in my last blog, I take an average of only 5% of the cases I am asked to handle. I am sure most attorneys handling medical malpractice cases could cite similar statistics in their own practices.
In 1999, Drs. Michael Daniel and Martin Makary used a synthesis of past reports to calculate that the prevalence of medical error in the United States revealed at least 44,000 people, and perhaps as many as 98,000, die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors that could have been prevented. See “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System.” The British Medical Journal in May of this year estimated that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer.
If so few cases are being filed in the face of such massive medical error, and any investigation by state authorities is shielded from public knowledge, how can the medical community be held accountable for its mistakes? And, if it cannot be, what does that say for the safety of each of us when we receive medical care?
I don’t pretend to have answers. I can only work hard to obtain full compensation for my client which I hope will serve to make medical care safer in the future for another patient.
What can you do? Perhaps the next time you have the opportunity to sit on a Jury which hears a medical malpractice case, remember that very few such cases are ever brought to trial and you could be playing a role in holding the medical community accountable for its actions, which in turn can make medical care safer for our friends and family.
Tony Baratta is a trial attorney in Huntingdon Valley, PA who represents clients who have been seriously injured. Tony is the founding partner of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta and a member of the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association (BPIA). Tony is on the board for the Philadelphia VIP, a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for trial attorneys and voted one of Philadelphia’s Super Lawyers for the past 10 years.