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It is well-established that preventable medical errors are far too common and prove fatal to hundreds of thousands of patients each year. Although it is encouraging that some hospitals have taken preventative steps such as patient checklists or automated medication dispensing systems, a new study shows that poor communication among nurses still contributes to a significant number of hospital errors.

A survey of 6,500 nurses and nurse managers across the United States found that nurses often fail to alert their colleagues when they see a safety measure being violated. About 85 percent of nurses admitted to working with people that took dangerous shortcuts, such as not washing their hands for long enough. But they failed to speak up to prevent patient harm.

The study also found that incompetence and disrespect among hospital workers also contribute to communication breakdowns. More than one-third of participants reported witnessing incompetence that put a patient’s life at risk, but very few actually voiced their concerns.

This data shows that even when preventative measures are taken, communication failures undermine their effectiveness. The result is a dangerous hospital environment that leaves patients at risk for harm.

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Hospitals are not as safe as many Americans might believe. Shockingly, more people die each year from medical mistakes than in car crashes or from illnesses such as diabetes and pneumonia. The most disturbing part of it all is that many of these fatal mistakes are easily preventable and could be corrected with a simple redesign of medical procedures.

Hospitals have fought long and hard to keep the prevalence of medical mistakes from the public. However, a recent report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows that the government is finally ready to provide information about preventable medical errors. The government analyzed eight types of errors, including air in the bloodstream, falls, bedsores, infusions with the wrong blood type, urinary tract infections, blood infections, uncontrolled blood-sugar levels and foreign objects left in the body after surgery. However, the accuracy and usefulness of the data is unclear, and other serious events such as wrong-site surgeries and medication errors were not included.

Last year, the U.S. Department Health Department revealed that 180,000 Medicare recipients are killed each year because of a medical error. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm continue to advocate on behalf of all patients harmed by medical mistakes and encourage public reporting of errors that could improve patient safety

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It is routine practice for drug developers to pay doctors hundreds of millions of dollars a year to “educate” their fellow physicians about a company drug, in the hopes that they will consider prescribing the drug to patients. These “pill-pushing” payouts are extremely controversial. Critics of the pharmaceutical industry say the payments are nothing more than bribes that endanger patients by encouraging doctors to promote unauthorized uses of drugs that may have harmful effects. Drug companies claim that the payments are necessary to cover the cost of conducting expensive clinical research, such as diagnostic testing.

This week, some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world disclosed the amount of money they paid to doctors and other health care professionals in 2010. Pfizer, Inc. spent the most: $177 million, with a majority of the payments going towards clinical research trials and related work. GlaxoSmithKline’s research spending totaled $28.5 million, with another $56.8 million going to doctors that performed speaking and advisory work. Drug maker Merck & Co. paid $20.4 million to more than 2,000 physicians that discussed the company’s products with other health care professional.

Although Pfizer was required to disclose their numbers as part of an off-label marketing settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, the other drug companies posted their numbers voluntarily. This is part of a movement towards greater transparency about the commercial links between industry and health care professionals. By 2013, disclosures will be mandatory under the Affordable Health Care Act.

Although many of these payments serve a valid purpose and provide doctors with better information to address patient’s needs, disclosure is critical. Patients need to be aware that the drugs they are prescribed may actually benefit their doctors’ pockets more than their own health.

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A simple apology can go a long way….but in some courtrooms it can actually be used against a physician that seeks to admit guilt for a medical mistake.

The Detroit News recently reported that Michigan is close to joining Illinois and more than 30 other states in passing an “I’m Sorry” law, which allows healthcare providers to apologize and disclose mistakes without the risk that their comments will be used against them in court.

Under the new legislation, a physician or healthcare provider can express his sympathy for a patient and even write a note explaining how sorry he is about the outcome without that communication later being used as an admission of guilt in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Proponents of the new law say that it will encourage more compassionate communication between doctors and patients and minimize costly lawsuits brought on by anger or suspicion that a doctor is not being honest about a medical mistake.

The bill overwhelmingly passed the state House of Representatives and heads back to the Senate. If passed, the law would take effect immediately. Because goodwill for doctors and lower legal bills are in the interest of both doctors and patients, the law could be a win-win for all parties involved.

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One of the most basic tenets of our democratic system is liberty and justice for all. When American citizens suffer a miscarriage of justice, courts often step in to provide a much-needed remedy for the pain and suffering caused at the hands of irresponsible parties. But the vital protection that this system provides is under attack from large corporations that are trying to take away rights from the victims that they harm.

A group of insurance companies and other big businesses are pushing legislation that would limit the amount of damages a medical malpractice victim could receive. This self-serving move only adds to the pain that so many vulnerable patients have suffered by preventing them from recovering the full compensation that they deserve.

Caps on damages and higher burdens of proof are just a couple of ways that large companies are trying to limit the power of juries. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R. Ga.) recently introduced legislation that would cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 and make punitive damages impossible. This would effectively result in a windfall for insurance companies and take away from severely injured parties who need compensation the most. Ironically, Gingrey himself sought punitive damages for injuries that he suffered in a car crash back in 2004.

With preventable medical errors killing almost 100,000 Americans a year, the health industry needs more pressure- not more excuses- to take responsibility for the consequences of their negligent behavior. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins law firm will continue to strongly advocate on behalf of injured medical malpractice victims in Illinois and across the country to ensure that they maintain the rights they are entitled to.

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As Americans age, they are often vulnerable to illnesses that threaten their quality of life. Preventative screenings and regular immunizations are critical tools to protect seniors from unnecessary illness. However, a new government study shows that many older adults are putting their health in serious jeopardy by not getting the services they need to prevent disease.

According to a report by several U.S. Department of Health and Human Service agencies, few seniors are getting recommended pneumococcal vaccinations against influenza, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and meningitis. Elderly Americans are also inadequately screening for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis.

This trend is most prevalent among elderly minority groups. More than half of all Hispanic seniors and nearly half of all African-American and Asian seniors have never received recommended immunizations or preventive screenings.

It is quite clear that the aging population is steadily growing, yet these proven clinical services remain severely underutilized. The report suggests that many older adults may not be aware of the services that are recommended for their age group, or they may not know that the services are covered by Medicare. Seniors need to take their health into their own hands and take preventative measures to ensure a long and healthy life.

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The safety of America’s food and medical products is often challenged by consumer watchdog groups advocating on behalf of the public. This time, the warning comes from the Food and Drug Administration itself, who caution that a tainted drug disaster is just waiting to happen.

The public health crisis looming among us is the result of overseas manufacturing. The agency can’t guarantee the safety of many drug and food products that are manufactured outside of the U.S. With 80% of the ingredients used in U.S. drugs coming from other countries, the agency admits that it is crippled in it mission to protect the health of Americans.

One recent incident that illustrates the FDA’s difficulty in monitoring imports is the contaminated blood thinner Heprin that was produced in China and led to more than 100 deaths here in the U.S. Counterfeit Lipitor from Central American and counterfeit glucose monitor test strips also showcase the agency’s inability to operate effectively on a global scale.

John Taylor, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, recently laid out the agency’s plan to react to these global challenges at a conference in Washington D.C. He explained that the next few years will be critical, as the FDA attempts to partner with foreign counterparts to create a global coalition of consumers and boost intelligence gathering.

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High-calorie, sugary soda drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi may harm more than just your waistline. New research shows that soda may actually cause lung, liver, and thyroid cancers.

The problem, according to government studies, is a certain caramel coloring used in food and soda brands like Coke and Pepsi. These dark colas get their signature hue by mixing sugars with sulfites and ammonia. In a study by the National Toxicology Program, the chemicals produced by this reaction were found to be carcinogens that caused cancers in lab rats or mice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of the chemicals in soda, or at least force manufacturers to put warning labels on their products.

One state has already taken steps to actively respond to the risk. Lawmakers in California are in the process of crafting regulations that may require food and drinks with significant levels of the chemicals to bear cancer warnings.

The FDA is studying the issue and whether there is any risk to humans. Meanwhile, the soda industry denies that the caramel colorings known as Caramel III and IV are carcinogens that threaten human health. They argue that the doses used in animal tests are much higher than what consumers would be exposed to in the real world.

Although the risk may be relatively small, the health threat that these controversial “caramel colorings” pose is significant. Even if popular soda producers are found to be acting within the bounds of the law, their behavior is clearly irresponsible. These carcinogenic chemicals are used purely for cosmetic purposes and have no other benefit for consumers.

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Emergency room visits can be traumatic for patients, especially young and senior citizen patients that contribute to more than 120 million emergency room visits each year. But even after patients leave the ER, their health may still be in jeopardy. Poor communication between emergency room physicians and primary care physicians can seriously undermine effective care.

The Seattle Times recently examined this problem, finding that patients’ physicians rarely contact the emergency room on their own, even if they work out of the same hospital. And ER doctors hardly ever contact primary care doctors to clarify information to discuss treatment plans.

Patients often suffer as a result of this disorganized communication. A study by the Center for Studying Health System Change found that when patients’ information is effectively shared, it is more likely that they will be safely admitted or discharged.

Although sharing information may be difficult because faxed records are often lengthy and hard to read, a simple phone-call between doctors can go a long way towards ensuring patient safety. The article suggests that reform efforts may provide the financial incentive doctors need to improve health information technology.

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Elder abuse is a troubling problem that has long been ignored, leaving the nation’s most vulnerable citizens defenseless against physical and psychological abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Seniors are likely to suffer in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and even their own homes.

Even fame and fortune are not enough to protect our senior citizens. 90-year-old entertainment legend Mickey Rooney recently turned the public spotlight on these unacceptable problems when he urged the Senate Special Committee on Aging to crack down on elder abuse.

Rooney gave an emotional performance before the Committee, as he described the abuse he suffered at the hands of close relatives. Rooney passionately explained that his step-son and wife withheld food and mediation, verbally abused him, and took control of his life and assets. He encouraged seniors to come forward and share their stories, because silence only increases the chance that abuse will go undeterred.

Elder abuse cases threaten to overwhelm adult protective service agencies in states such as Illinois that are already overburdened and underfunded. Staffing and training continue to suffer as funding for these services decreases. It is a problem that is not only disturbing, but deadly. Studies show that elder abuse leads to a 300 percent increase in death.

Experienced nursing home lawyers at Pintas & Mullins understand the need to protect our senior citizens and their families and continue to strongly advocate on their behalf.