Medical Error: How You Can Protect Yourself
Too often, perhaps, we accept with little question the idea that doctors and medical professionals know what’s best, and patients are hesitant to question that authority. But the fact is, they’re not infallible. Prior to Covid-19, hospital and medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States – right behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. One in three people who are hospitalized suffer harm, injury or infection from medical mistakes, and the consequences can be long-term and far reaching
There are several factors that contribute to hospital and medical mistakes – doctors become overworked or burned out, poor teamwork and communications, and unsatisfactory training among them. Professionals in the field are developing a consensus on how to better train and build teams and implement better preventive protocols – but you as a patient can take steps to ensure you’re protected against — or in the event of — medical error:
Keep a Medical Diary
Write everything down – notes about your condition, your medications and what they’re for, and when and why they were prescribed. Keep detailed records of your visits with medical professionals and write down what was said during each session. Also, note any tests given, what the results were, and record all discussions with caregivers – any questions asked, and what the answers were.
List your medicines in a separate log and monitor the dosages. Keep notes on discussions with your doctor and pharmacist and make note of any change in medication and the reasons given for it.
Have a Buddy
Ask a friend, relative, or partner to stay with you while in treatment or during hospital/doctor visits. They can be your backup and extra set of eyes and ears.
Have a Living Will
It’s a hard thing to talk about, but inestimably important to have your wishes known and documented in the event you are incapacitated. Make sure your family and your doctor have a copy of your Living Will and know what your decisions and wishes are.
Do Your Research
Research your hospital’s safety rating and don’t be afraid to ask the Administrator questions about what protocols they have in place for improvements and upgrades. There are several resources you can use online to find your hospital’s rating, such as The Leapfrog Group.
You, as the patient, have the right to be a part of your treatment and care, and you should not feel intimidated or hesitant to ask questions and expect answers from your physician and medical personnel. Your life and health are important, and you have every right to know how your treatment is being handled and why. It is not only permissible, but imperative, for you to make yourself as integral a part of your medical team as your Primary Care Physician.
In the event that you believe you have experienced harm from medical error, please call us at 304-720-2351. (make click to call) We will be happy to meet with you for a free consultation.
Medical Errors: Tips on How to Prevent Them
20 Tips To Help Prevent Medical Error
The Leapfrog Group
Nursing homes, or Skilled Nursing Facilities, are an option for people who don’t necessarily require hospitalization or round-the-clock supervision and care, but need some medical or physical therapy assistance, or special care after surgery or during illness. Some nursing homes are set up as a hospital type of environment, while others are designed like homes or assisted living units. So once you know the basic criteria of what you’re looking for, here are some ideas to help you go about choosing the right facility for what you need:
Consult Your Hospital/Healthcare Provider
Hospitals usually employ social workers or hospice/assisted care advisors who likely have a list of skilled care facilities. Talk to friends, family, social/religious groups, and even family members who have loved ones in care. They can help you pick out some places and offer insight and recommendations.
Call Your Preliminary List of Options
– How many residents do they have?
– Is there a doctor on call, or do residents travel to see a physician?
– Is the schedule regimented, or more flexible?
– How many staff members are there? How many nurses or specialized personnel?
– What was the facility’s last evaluation rating? How were problems handled?
– What is the rate of turnover for both staff and residents?
– What is the basic fee structure; can you afford it?
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential facilities, ask for an appointment. You can get a first-hand look at the operations and make your own observations. Some suggestions:
– Check for safety hazards: some of these aren’t always obvious, like frayed carpets, for instance, or cracks in the floor. Also keep an eye out for raised doorsills, uneven tile or floorboards, electrical cords, and unusual bevels or bumps.
– Observe how the nurses/aides interact with people; do they address residents by name? Do they knock before entering the room? Do they know the resident’s habits, interests, schedule, and family names? Does the staff make sure that residents are stimulated and provided opportunities for activity and interaction, or are residents left alone for long periods of time?
– Cleanliness and safety of the facility: are the floors and surfaces clean and well-kept? Are the doors and windows equipped with locks or alarms? Are there cameras and/or other surveillance features? What is the facility’s current safety evaluation?
This time go to the facility unannounced, without calling ahead – perhaps a few days later, and try a different time of day so that you can observe other staff at work. Pop in during lunch and observe how mealtime is handled. How does the food look? How is it served? Is it nutritious and easily digestible? Are residents given the option of eating their own food preferences, and does the facility oblige religious dietary requirements, etc? Do staff interact with or sit with residents during mealtime and engage in conversation?
When You Choose
Ultimately, cost is going to be a big factor in your final decision, as well as quality of care and medicine. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask the facility director for clarification, and keep asking until you’re satisfied with the explanation.
You can find a list of skilled facilities that have been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as a checklist of additional questions, at www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare.
There are also many available State Insurance Assistance Programs that can help you with choosing health insurance and finding other financial aid: (link to www.medicare.gov/Nursing/Payment.asp.
How good is your relationship with your physician? Our doctors are only as good as how honest our communication is with them. It’s upsetting when they make a mistake – but they’re human beings, not demigods, and human error is inevitable. But when medical professionals we trust – often with our lives – don’t tell us about those mistakes, that’s when it’s really scary, as an article in The Raw Story explains.
It gets worse: in an independent study published by BMJ Quality and Safety 300 Primary Care Physicians said that depending on how big they felt the mistake was, they would decide whether to tell the patient. The patient’s right to know about any mistake, large or small, was not a factor in that decision.
Additionally, doctors admitted that not only would they not admit to mistakes they made – they would actively try to cover it up. Worst of all, they wouldn’t be sorry for either.
The implications are horrifying. Medical error costs the lives of 250,000 people a year, much of which is preventable. The trust we put in our doctors makes us vulnerable enough, and if our medical professionals are consciously obscuring and hiding their own mistakes, that trust is broken – and it puts us in even more danger; the doctor’s needs and position DO NOT take precedence over patient care and safety.
Voting used to be just one day a year – the first Tuesday of November. In 2020 in North Carolina, you can also vote on an absentee ballot for no reason at all; you can vote early for two weeks, even on the weekends, or do it the old-fashioned way and vote on November 3rd.
If you choose to vote an absentee ballot you must request a ballot or retrieve one online. Many voters receive unsolicited applications for the absentee ballot in the mail. The unsolicited absentee ballot request forms sent by the Center for Voter Information and the North Carolina GOP appear to be legitimate, according to an election board official quoted by WCNC, but you can double-check with a few quick tests.
- First, does the form match the one published online by the North Carolina Board of Elections? (Here’s a link.)
- Second, is the return address the correct address for your county’s board of elections? (Click that link above and see if the addresses match.)
- Third, has any part of the form already been filled out? If so, you’ll have to toss it. If the form you received in the mail passes those three tests, then it’s legitimate, and you can fill it out and send it in for an absentee ballot. Your request for an application must be postmarked no later than October 27.
The only people who can fill out the ballot are the voter, a near relative or legal guardian of said voter, or a member of a multi-partisan assistance team, according to attorney Antoine Marshall, who recently held a seminar on voting for other North Carolina attorneys. You cannot get help from a political party.
Your absentee ballot voting must be witnessed by someone over the age of 18 and not a candidate unless they are a near relative. The witness then must sign your ballot envelope and also give their address.
You can mail in your ballot, which must be postmarked by November 3rd (with a first-class stamp) or you can take it to your early voting site (see below) or to your County Board of Elections.
If you request an absentee ballot but later decide to vote in person you may do so. But throw away the absentee.
Unlike some states, North Carolina does not wait until Election Day to process absentee ballots. They start as soon are they are received. The State Board of Elections offices states on its website that, “the county board of elections staff reviews each container-return envelope for completeness. Beginning five weeks before Election Day, the county board of elections holds weekly absentee board meetings where the approved ballots are inserted into a voting machine. However, results are not tabulated or reported until Election Day.”
North Carolina has a two-week period of early voting and you can vote on weekends during that time frame. The early voting period is underway, it started on October 15th and ends on October 31st. You can early vote even if you are not registered as early voting allows you to register and vote all at the same time. You can early vote at any precinct in your county. And you can even return an absentee ballot at your early voting site. However, only you, a near relative or legal guardian may hand- deliver the envelope containing your absentee ballot.
Election Day Voting
You can vote in person on November 3rd if you are registered. The polls will be open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. If you are in line when the polls close you can still cast your ballot. On that day, you must vote at your designated precinct.
DON’T BE DENIED YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE
If you are told you can’t vote do not walk away. Ask to vote a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is used when questions arise about a voter’s qualifications to vote or their eligibility to vote. The typical reasons for a person to use a provisional ballot is if there is no record of registration, an unreported move, they have previously been removed from the voter rolls, they are at an incorrect precinct, have an incorrect party ballot, there is a jurisdiction dispute or they have already voted.
If you ask for a provisional ballot you will be guided to an election official at a help station where you can vote and seal your ballot in an envelope. You will receive a personal identification number (pin) to use to check the status of your provisional ballot. The county board of election staff will research the voter’s provisional issues and determine if the entire ballot or just a portion of it is counted. No election results are certified until the status of all the provisional ballots are determined.
Under Watchful Eyes
Poll Watchers can challenge your right to cast a ballot. Poll Watchers can closely monitor the administration of the election to ensure that votes are being counted correctly and they can even count the voters as they come in to alert candidates or parties about who has voted, attorney Marshall says this helps candidates or parties with their get out the vote effort.
Poll Watchers are selected by the county party chairpersons. Two are designated per precinct and there are 10 at-large observers. They must be registered to vote in the county where they are working and they cannot be a candidate. A person called a “runner” can also be appointed to receive voting lists or counts to return them to the candidates or parties.
Poll Watchers are different from Poll greeters. Greeters, who are last-minute campaigners, have to remain at least 50 feet from the front door of the precinct and cannot come inside.
Covid-19 has changed the way we do many things voting might be one of those. However, there are ways to vote safely and it is important to vote to have your voice heard.
North Carolina has a two-week period of early voting and you can vote on weekends during that time frame. The early voting period is underway, it started on October 15th and ends on October 31st. The three things to remember about this early voting period. You can still vote:
- If you are not registered to vote you can register and vote all at the same time;
- If you need to update your name (i.e.; due to marriage) or your address if you have moved within the same county; and
- At any precinct in the county in which you live. The larger counties, such as Wake, have several polling places. Most small counties allow voting at the County Board of Elections.
You can also return an Absentee Ballot at your early voting site. However, only you, a near relative (a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, grandchild, mother-in-law or father-in-law, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law, stepparent or stepchild) or legal guardian may hand-deliver the envelope containing your Absentee Ballot.
If you have questions about early voting, please email Kathy@kathybrownlaw.com.
If and when we do get a vaccine for COVID-19, let’s hope it works. Because if the vaccine causes injury, there will be little to no legal recourse.
In the 1980s, Congress created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. While vaccines are very safe and effective in the vast majority of cases, there is still a small percentage of vaccinations that result in various injuries from the administration of the shot itself to a side effect of the vaccine.
I practice in the Federal Court of Claims, where the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is administered. Injuries such as SIRVA (Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration) and GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome), among others, are eligible for damage awards, and I have represented clients who have received such compensation.
However, early on in this pandemic, a Trump administration rule will bar those injured by any Covid-19 vaccine from accessing the VICP.
Emma Coleman reports in Route Fifty that those who are injured or die from a coronavirus vaccine can instead seek compensation through the rarely-used Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), which is a different, separate fund run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The problem is, rarely does anyone receive an award from that fund. One vaccine specialist told Reuters that the process was a “black hole” handled by HHS outside the court system. Of the 485 claims filed with the CICP since 2010, only 39 people have received compensation totaling $5.7 million — almost all of them for H1N1 flu vaccines.
While the VICP is funded through a tax on vaccines, the CICP relies on Congressional appropriations via contract. Further, the CICP does not pay legal fees or costs, nor does it award pain and suffering damages. Lastly, while the VICP allows three years to file, with the CICP there is just a one-year deadline during which you can bring a claim. That’s not a very big window.
That’s important, because determining an injury from a vaccine is hardly ever an easy or quick thing to do. I’ve personally handled cases where it took the doctors months or even years to understand, diagnose, and treat the injury, not to mention figure out what caused it.
CICP is essentially designed in such a way as to prevent as few cases as possible from being heard – let alone awarded damages — and their rules are stacked against you right from the start with that one-year window.
Right now, many of those who handle vaccine cases are recommending coronavirus vaccine claims be administered through the VICP — and I agree. That system is better prepared to handle a large volume of claims. The VICP has paid an average of 615 claimants each year since 2015 at a rate of about $216 million annually. The VICP system also pays attorney fees and costs, awards damages for pain and suffering, and allows plaintiffs the opportunity to appeal — which is not available through CICP.
The VICP also has a three-year time frame in which to file your claim. This compensation program, which is still tedious, at least gives the claimant time to figure how and if the vaccine caused the injury, pays an attorney (whether you get an award or not) to help you navigate a complex system, is more likely to give you a fair award if you prove your claim and gives you the opportunity to appeal. We’ll be fighting for that!
April 30, 2020
These are unusual times: scary, uncertain, and, unfortunately, even deadly. But one thing many of us ask: “How can we help?” At Kathy Brown Law, we can help by using our expertise to review insurance policies and insurance coverage. For small businesses wondering if they can stay afloat, their commercial insurance policy may offer a ray of hope. For the lay person, an insurance policy can be complicated to read and even more difficult to understand. Questions arise like what does my coverage entail? How do I make a claim? If the insurance company denies my claim, what are my options?
We stand ready to help you get answers. We will review your policy free of charge! If there is coverage, we will help you file a claim. If a claim is denied, we can help you decide the next steps to take that meet your business needs.
West Virginia’s Insurance Commissioner recently put out a Bulletin telling business owners that “some commercial policies may provide business interruption coverage due to an order by a governmental or civil authority.” WV-Insurance Bulletin 20-8. However, the Commissioner explains, “for coverage to apply, most insurance policies still require a direct physical loss from a covered peril as the underlying cause of the business shut down or closure.”
Many insurance companies have written exclusionary language into policies that may result in a denial of coverage if there is a pandemic. However, that is not the end of the story. Insurance policies can be different, and there may be additional coverage options purchased or endorsements that might apply.
That’s where you may need help and we are glad to review your policy. It can all be done remotely, by either scanning the policy and emailing it to us or
faxing it to our office. We can then have a telephone call or Zoom meeting with you to let you know your next step. Our email address is Kathy@kathybrownlaw.com and the fax number is 304-720-2352. You can always call first at 304-720-2351.
We are all in this together and this is a way we can help! Stay well.
Kathy A. Brown -responsible attorney.