Hospital Mergers, Bad Doctors, Endanger Massachusetts Patients

Hospital mergers are in the news again, the latest warning sign when it comes to the risk of patient injury or death in the U.S. healthcare system.

The nation’s largest hospital and health-care conglomerates often tout economies of scale and improved services when announcing acquisitions or otherwise swallowing up the competition. However, The New York Times became the latest media outlet to question those assertions when it published a report this month that found a decline in level of care associated with hospital mergers.Accident at Route 212 in Methuen

While such mergers may offer cost-savings and other economies for providers, they result in fewer choices for patients and physicians, higher prices, and reduced quality of care, including an increase in mortality and major health setbacks as competition falls.

Our medical malpractice lawyers in Boston continue to fight for patient rights as the profit-motive erodes what few safeguards exist when it comes to protecting the American healthcare consumer from bad doctors, dangerous hospitals, deadly pharmaceuticals and defective medical products.

Medical Malpractice & Negligence Claims In Massachusetts

Martin Gaynor, a Carnegie Mellon University economist who has studied the issue of hospital mergers, says declining care is of particular concern when it comes to government programs such as Medicare.

“When prices are set by the government, hospitals don’t compete on price; they compete on quality,” Mr. Gaynor said.

Statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims in Massachusetts are found under M.G.L. Chapter 260 Section 4. Generally the time limit for filing a lawsuit is three years under most circumstances. The discovery rule permits those who could not have reasonably learned of the malpractice to file a claim within three years of discovery of the medical mistake or negligence. However, the statute of repose prohibits any medical malpractice claim from being filed more than seven years after the alleged malpractice. The only exception to this rule is for cases in which a foreign object is left in the body.

Experienced medical malpractice lawyers in Boston will be in the best position to determine whether a mistake or medical negligence caused or contributed to harm. These are complex cases that have stringent time limits for filing. A victim’s case must also survive review at time of filing under M.G.L. Chapter 231 Section 60B.  Known as an “Offer of Proof,” this evidentiary showing occurs before a three-person tribunal, including a Superior Court judge, a physician and an attorney. Consequently, your chosen medical malpractice law firm must be ready to present your case at time of filing, not at some distant court date.

Not all cases with a bad medical outcome will survive such a challenge. In general, victims of medical malpractice must show a medical professional violated standard of care. Standard of care is generally defined as accepted practices and procedures utilized by similarly situated medical professionals in your geographical area. Standard of care may also vary depending on a number of factors, including a patient’s age and medical history.

Last year, a separate report found dangerous doctors often switch states or employers to avoid detection and continue practicing. Despite having fewer employment options, these mergers within the healthcare industry do not seem to be having a measurable impact when it comes to keeping bad doctors from practicing.

Dangerous Doctors Face Few Consequences

USAToday reported dangerous doctors continue to practice despite a nationwide database meant to reduce the risk.

For example, an Illinois doctor who was called an “imminent danger to the public” by a medical board attorney, was placed on indefinite probation. Despite more than a dozen medical malpractice suits, he was found practicing in Missouri. The investigation by USA Today Network, MedPage Today and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found hundreds of doctors still at work despite being publicly disciplined or barred from practicing in another state.

Despite implementation of the National Practitioner Data Bank in 1990 (which was touted as a way to prevent bad practitioners from moving to another state to avoid detection), just a handful of states use it regularly. Massachusetts is one of only 5 states that endeavors to report at least six of the seven classes of discipline tracked by the database.

However, Massachusetts is also among states that protect these dangerous doctors by limiting damage awards in medical malpractice cases. While no caps exist for compensatory damages, meant to reimburse patients for expenses like lost wages and medical care, state law caps non-economic damage awards at $500,000, except in cases where exemptions exist, including those for disfigurement or permanent impairment.

Determining whether you have a case for medical malpractice or negligence is a complex process. Your chosen law firm should have extensive experience litigating these cases and should regularly use medical and vocational professionals and expert witnesses.

Missed diagnosis or failure to diagnose is the most common medical malpractice claim, resulting in harm to about 12 million patients each year. Other common causes include prescription errors, child birth error and surgical or anesthesia errors. In an increasing number of cases, hospital acquired infections are to blame. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 31 hospital patients will acquire a hospital-associated infection. 

Not only can a serious antibiotic-resistant infection significant complicate treatment and result in increased recovery time, hospitals often add tens of thousands of dollars in additional medical expenses to the cost of treating an infection a patient acquired in the hospital.  A recent report published by JAMA Internal Medicine report such infections cost about $10 billion annually, with central line bloodstream infections being the most costly, at more than $45,000 per case.

The National Institutes of Health reports about 2 million patients a year will suffer a healthcare-associated infection, and nearly 90,000 will die.

When it comes to healthcare in America,  failure to seek experienced legal help to protect your rights means you are at the mercy of large hospital chains and the nation’s largest health insurance companies.

If you or someone you love has suffered from poor medical care, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

How dangerous doctors escape despite data bank, March 14, 2018, USAToday

More Blog Entries:

Here’s Why Slip and Fall Accidents Happen, April 20, 2018, Boston Personal Injury Attorney Blog

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