Keeping tabs on medical mistakes

WKBN 27 Investigates takes a look at who is keeping track of medical malpractice claims.


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Every year, the federal government spends $4 billion dollars fixing medical errors and mistakes that happen to people just on Medicare.

Two years ago Jane (who did not want to be identified), a mother of three, experienced such severe pain that her gynecologist recommended surgery. She currently has a lawsuit pending in Mahoning County Court and did not want to compromise her legal case by disclosing her identity.

To cope with her medical condition, Jane says her purse is a portable pharmacy filled with medications to control her bowel and severe heartburn and nausea. She didn’t know the routine hysterectomy surgery she had would be the start of what she calls a living nightmare. But her bowel was nicked during the procedure.

To repair the injury, doctors removed seven inches of her bowel – which had been healthy. She says the pain when she woke up was indescribable.

“It was more than I could handle. It was horrible. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that ever,” Jane said.

When it comes to medical errors, Jane is not alone. Malpractice attorney Pamela Pantages said there is a significant amount of people who die every year or who are permanently injured in some way from medical errors.

Last year, Pantages represented the family of a woman who died after doctors at one local hospital put a breathing tube into her esophagus – instead of her airway.

“Unfortunately, it is a problem in this country, and families need to know that and need to know what to do,” Pantages said.

The hospital and doctors settled out of court and the family is barred from talking about their experience. That same secrecy surrounds many of these medical mistakes.

Mistakes like these are called Adverse Events. Medicaid’s inspector general claims hospitals are only reporting less than one percent of these accidents.

The OIG is now calling for a national system to track malpractice as Obamacare adds health insurance for millions of people, and the fear is the mistakes will increase, too.

“This is an issue and will continue to be an issue if we don’t have the proper definition of an adverse event and what needs to be reported according to the current code.” said State Sen. Joe Schiavoni.

Laws vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, hospitals report malpractice events but these reports are kept secret by law. In Ohio, some errors have to be reported, but when 27 First News asked for the records from the state department of health, the response was “This is something that ODH does not collect” even though it’s mandated by Ohio Law. Advocates say that needs to change.

“I think that is something we as consumers have the right to know,” Pantages said.

John Palmer with the Ohio Hospitals Association says current reporting methods of reporting are adequate.

“I think there has been a lot of focus nationally on health care performance and with hospitals. We are really trying to address the reduction of harm,” Palmer said.

As for Jane, she’s facing yet another surgery. She had contacted a new doctor but she may have to go back to the same hospital where the medical mistake happened.

“It makes me nervous to go there. I am scared to go there. I don’t want to go there,” Jane said.

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