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Doctors That Kill?

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A shocking 91% of doctors have made a serious mistake on the job. Here are some tips that could save your life.


You may have heard about Laura Hope Smith, a 22-year-old Massachusetts woman who died from cardiopulmonary arrest while undergoing an abortion procedure in 2007.

"Basically, her heart stopped as a result of the manner in which the medical procedure was undertaken by the doctor," Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said. "The manner in which it was done was, in our view, was willful, wanton and reckless conduct."

"Had she been on the proper monitoring equipment, her heart rate, her pulse rate, her oxygen level, would have been monitored and any dangerous decrease could have been picked up immediately. Resuscitative or corrective measures could have been taken promptly, which would have avoided her death."

According to authorities, Dr. Rapin Osathanondh didn't have any means of monitoring Smith's heart and oxygen or a functioning blood pressure cuff in the room during Smith's abortion. What's more, the doctor "failed to adhere to basic cardiac life support protocol" and did not call 911 in a timely manner.

In another shocking case, a Minnesota doctor removed the healthy kidney of a patient, leaving the diseased one inside. One of Boston's most experienced surgeons operated on the wrong side of a patient. Then there were doctors in California who removed the appendix of the wrong patient.

Medical mistakes are a lot more common than you may think. According to a 2007 study of 3,171 physicians published in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 2,909 docs said they had been involved in a serious or minor medical error or near miss. What's more, of 44% of doctors who made these blunders said they lost confidence in their professional capabilities and reported higher stress levels.

"Although surgical errors do happen, they're supposed to be a rarity," says Robert Lahita, MD, Ph.D., and Chairman of Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Hospital.

"These days, most doctors adhere to a pre-surgery protocol called 'Time Out,'" Lahita says. "Right before surgery, the lead doctor takes five minutes to meet with staff to ensure the right side of the body is prepped for surgery, the instruments are cleaned, the blood type is recorded--even that it's the correct patient!"

"If 'Time Out' isn't done, doctors can fail their hospital inspection and may be put on probation or even fined by the state and government."

That said, even with the best medical staff, doctors are human, and mistakes happen. So what can moms do to ensure their safety and the safety of their families?

Google your M.D.: "Before you schedule your procedure, check the credentials of the doctor performing your procedure," says Lahita. "Any credible doctor should be affiliated with a reputable hospital, and a simple Google search will yield where they earned their degree, what field they specialize in, and their contact information."

Check with the state medical board: You could always call the hospital and speak to someone on staff to find out how experienced your doctor is; however if the hospital doesn't provide that information, call your state medical board--an organization that keeps tabs on the medical community.

Do your own research: Discuss the operation or procedure in detail with your doctor (there are no stupid questions) so you know exactly what is being done for your condition, what medications you'll be taking, the dosage, and exactly what it does. And follow up post-procedure: The Institute of Medicine estimates that patients receive only half the tests and procedures recommended for their conditions. Touch base with your doctor on tests and request extra copies of lab reports, test results and prescriptions. Then, keep an electronic file system to help organize your medical records.

Choose an advocate: Finally, brief a friend or family member on your medical history and the procedure you're having. If you're nervous or anxious beforehand, have a loved one present can help remember information or even advocate for you if need be. Another person can also use "Condition H" on your behalf to alert a quick-response team to your condition. This procedure allows patients and their family members to call for immediate help if they feel their condition is not being addressed quickly enough. And make sure they're there post surgery to drive you home.

Does this research change how you see your doctor? Comment below.

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1 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous July 21, 2008, 10:17 AM

Ask the nurses. Nurses know which doctors/surgeons you should use better than anyone. They know all the dirty little secrets about these guys. Whenever a doctor visits one of my loved ones in the hospital I always ask the nurses if they would let him do the surgery on their family member or if they think maybe another doctor might be “more experienced”. If they are hesistant to answer because of worry about getting into trouble I change the question to if you could pick any doctor in this hospital who would you pick?

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