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Infection rates in Iillinois hospitals may bring Medicare penalties

This fall, Medicare payments may be docked for six or more Illinois hospitals as the government cracks down on infections and other injuries to patients.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which has one of the highest rates of hospital-acquired medical conditions in the state, is on the list.

Beginning in October, annual penalties for Northwestern and five or more other hospitals in the state could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The penalties are assessed at the rate of one percent of all Medicare payments per year and are intended to provide an incentive for hospitals to improve the care of their patients. Infections and other injuries acquired at hospitals are a major public health concern, and they cost the federal government and taxpayers money for additional treatment. 

When a patient injury is the result of negligence on the part of medical personnel, a medical malpractice lawsuit may also be filed.

In April, the federal government released a preliminary national list of 761 institutions that may be assessed, although that list may now change as further data is taken into account. The list includes 26 of Illinois’ 125 hospitals. A smaller list of six includes the institutions most likely to face penalties, which rank in the bottom 10 percent on a national basis in infection rates and avoidable safety problems. Northwestern is the only Chicago-area hospital included in the list of six.

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Labor trauma can cause birth injuries

A number of birth injuries can result from trauma experienced during the labor and delivery process. Said trauma can result from mistakes on the part of medical professionals attending the birth.

Head trauma suffered during delivery can cause several different types of birth injuries, including cephalohematoma, caput succedaneum and epidural hemorrhage.

Cerebral palsy, a disability of the central nervous system, can result if the baby’s brain lacks oxygen during the labor and delivery process.

Perinatal asphyxia can also appear when a baby is deprived of oxygen. That deprivation can be caused by interference with blood flow to the baby’s brain or a drop in maternal blood pressure.

Erb’s Palsy is a paralysis of the arm resulting from an injury to a group of nerves in the arm. This condition can occur if the baby’s head and neck are pulled excessively during delivery.

Brachial plexus injuries can be caused by shoulder trauma, inflammation or tumors, and they may occur if the baby’s shoulder is stretched during birth.

A leading cause of severe illness and even death in newborns is meconium aspiration syndrome. If a fetus is stressed during delivery and inhales a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid into its lungs, severe injury can result.

Each of these birth injuries may be caused by the mistakes of doctors and other medical personnel. An unnecessary injury may constitute medical malpractice. If your child suffered a birth injury due to a medical error, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact Briskman Briskman & Greenberg to learn more about your legal rights.

Up to 12 million adults could be affected by misdiagnosis

A new study in BMJ Quality and Safety, an international journal of healthcare improvement, estimated that one in 20 adults in the United States could be misdiagnosed in outpatient visits. The study found that approximately half of those mistakes could cause the patient harm.

The researchers set the definition of misdiagnosis as a missed opportunity to make a correct or timely diagnosis based on the evidence available. A misdiagnosis may be an instance of a physician making an incorrect diagnosis, or it may be a case of a delay in diagnosis. The researchers performed an analysis of data from three previous studies of outpatients in the United States, with the goal of estimating the frequency of misdiagnoses.

Researchers examined data on lung cancer misdiagnoses, delays in colon and prostate cancer diagnoses, and diagnostic mistakes in the primary care setting. The authors of the study said that diagnostic errors are often multifaceted, and that factors such as unclear clinical guidelines, cognitive biases and the structure of outpatient systems may play a part in misdiagnoses.

The researchers also said that misdiagnoses are underreported, which is a problem in itself. In the period between 1986 and 2010, payouts for medical malpractice claims due to misdiagnoses amounted to $38.8 billion. Diagnostic mistakes accounted for the largest percentage of malpractice payouts.

How brain injuries occur during birth

Injuries to a baby’s brain can occur during or shortly after labor and delivery, as a result of three main categories of cause: reduced oxygen, reduced glucose and trauma.

A baby in the womb gets its oxygen from its mother, as the mother’s oxygenated blood flows across the placenta and through the umbilical cord. If this flow of oxygen is interrupted during the labor and delivery process, serious birth injuries can occur. This can be caused by a rupture of the uterus, umbilical cord compression or premature abruption of the placenta. If the medical professionals attending the birth fail to deal with such complications immediately, the infant’s brain may be damaged.

A lengthy or difficult labor can reduce the amount of glucose in the baby’s blood. It is important for a baby’s glucose levels to be checked immediately after birth. Failure to correct low glucose levels promptly is a common cause of injury to an infant’s brain.

Trauma during labor and delivery can also cause injuries to a baby’s brain. Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors can cause damage to the brain through cerebral contusions, cerebral bleeding and the tearing and stretching of brain tissue and blood vessels.

If your child suffered a birth injury, contact Briskman Briskman & Greenberg for a free consultation.

Research suggests under-reported birth injury

Research suggests that Chiari malformation may be an under-reported birth injury.

Chiari malformations are structural problems in the cerebellum, the area of the brain that maintains balance. The cerebellum normally sits above the foramen magnum with parts of the brain stem. The foramen magnum is in the lower back portion of the skull and leads to the spinal canal. 

In a Chiari malformation, part of the cerebellum develops beneath the foramen magnum. This causes pressure on the brain stem and cerebellum, which may affect the brain adversely and prevent cerebrospinal fluid from flowing properly to the brain.

Symptoms of Chiari malformation may include neck pain, numbness, dizziness, vision problems, buzzing or ringing in the ears, nausea, insomnia, depression and headaches. Individuals with Chiari malformations often have related conditions such as hydrocephalus, spina bifida, syringomyelia, tethered cord syndrome or spinal curvature.

Chiari malformations were once believed to occur in approximately one in every 1,000 births, but research suggests that it may be much more common than previously thought. A complication in diagnosing the condition is that individuals may be asymptomatic until adolescence or adulthood.

Chiari malformations that happen during the development of a fetus can be caused by medical malpractice — including a doctor’s failure to warn a pregnant mother of the dangers of taking certain medications during pregnancy.

Illinois sees decrease in medical malpractice payouts

In 2013, Medical Malpractice payouts decreased in Illinois, according to research from a medical malpractice insurer.

Diedrich Healthcare performed an analysis of 2013 medical malpractice payments that were recorded by the National Practitioner Data Bank. The insurer found that medical malpractice payouts in Illinois decreased by $28 million from 2012 to 2013.

The insurer also found that 2013 was the first year since 2003 that medical malpractice payments increased nationwide. National payouts increased by $168 million, a figure 4.7 percent greater than 2012′s.

The greatest state decrease in payouts was seen in New York, with a $73 million drop. In Massachusetts, there was a drop of $7 million; in Florida, a decrease of $4 million; and in Mississippi, a drop of $3 million. The largest increase in medical malpractice payouts occurred in California, which saw a $51 million uptick.

On a national basis, 96 percent of the payouts were represented by settlements. In cases that went to judgment, the average payment amount decreased by more than $200,000.

Diedrich Healthcare also analyzed malpractice payouts according to the type of allegation. The insurer found that in 33 percent of payouts, the allegation was related to diagnosis. Twenty-three percent involved surgery, 18 percent involved treatment and 10 percent concerned obstetrics. Allegations related to medication, anesthesia, monitoring, equipment and other causes accounted for five percent or less of the total.

Chicago jury awards fourteen million dollars in medical malpractice lawsuit

A Chicago jury recently awarded $14 million to the plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The plaintiff, Mariola Zapalski, was prescribed the birth control drug Yasmin. After taking the medication for 13 days, she suffered a stroke that resulted in a permanent brain injury and the paralysis of her left side. She now requires around-the-clock care.

The lawsuit alleged that Zapalski’s doctor should not have prescribed the medication to her because she had underlying risk factors. According to the lawsuit, her doctor also failed to warn her of the risks associated with the medication. A lawsuit against the medical center that provided Zapalski with the referral to her doctor was settled for $2.5 million, according to reports.

Yasmin contains drospirenone, which is a synthetic progestin that has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and blood clots. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2011 stating that birth control drugs containing drospirenone may carry a greater risk of blood clots than other types of birth control. Preliminary results from an FDA study suggested that the risk of blood clots is 1.5 times greater. However, Yasmin and other drugs containing drospirenone are still on the market. Bayer, the manufacturer of Yasmin, has settled other lawsuits over the drug.

Eleven million dollar birth injury lawsuit over Topamax stands

In a recent birth injury lawsuit, a jury award of $11 million will stand after a judge denied a defendant’s motion for a new trial.

The jury made the award in November 2013 in a lawsuit over birth injuries suffered by a child whose mother, Haley Powell, used the antiepileptic drug Topamax during pregnancy. The suit alleged that the mother’s use of the medication caused the boy to be born with a severe cleft palate and other birth injuries. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures the drug, was the defendant in the case.

The jury found that Janssen failed to warn the mother of the risk of birth injuries from the use of Topamax during pregnancy.

In denying the motion for a new trial, Judge George W. Overton of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas held that the amount of the award was appropriate given the severity of the injuries. Overton noted that the boy struggles to be understood in conversation, has residual scarring from surgery, and faces future additional surgeries as well as psychological and emotional challenges stemming from the cleft palate.

At the time of the trial, Bloomberg News reported that the plaintiffs’ attorneys claimed that Janssen intentionally withheld safety reports suggesting a link between Topamax and birth injuries.

Doctors who lose licenses still collect from Medicare

Several doctors who have committed medical malpractice and other offenses to such a degree that they lost their state licenses to practice medicine have been able to practice medicine in other states and to continue billing Medicare for their services.

A Bloomberg News investigation found seven doctors who billed Medicare for a total of $6.5 million in 2012, despite having lost their medical licenses because of medical malpractice or other misconduct.

Consumer advocates and some members of Congress decried what they called a permissive approach to participation by doctors in the $604 billion Medicare program. Records show that all seven doctors informed Medicare that they had lost their licenses.

The information was released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare. The federal agency released data regarding its payments to doctors for the first time in more than 30 years. So far, only data from 2012 has been released. CMS said it hoped the release of data would make it possible for others to assist in uncovering fraud within the system.

CMS has discretionary authority to take doctors off the Medicare provider list if they lose their state license to practice medicine. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) Inspector General has the same discretionary authority. Neither agency is required to act, and a DHS spokesman said that doctors are generally not excluded if one state revokes a medical license but another state grants a license with knowledge of the first state’s action.

Peoria Widow Wins Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

The widow and children of a Chillicothe, Illinois man who died four years ago were recently awarded $1.6 million by a Peoria County jury.
The award came after a three-week medical malpractice trial and 10 hours of jury deliberation over three days. Eventually, the jury found one doctor and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center liable for Donald McIntyre’s death in September 2009. However, St. Francis employees and a charged resident were not found negligent regarding McIntyre’s care.

McIntyre was diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia when he visited St. Francis on September 6, 2009. The condition causes red blood cells to be destroyed, limiting the oxygen that can be distributed through the body. According to the lawsuit, the proper treatment for the condition is a blood transfusion and administration of steroids, but the procedures were not followed properly. The complaint alleged that McIntyre received only two units of blood, which were not enough to stabilize his condition. He died of cardiac arrest.

The hospital has released a statement expressing its condolences to the family and saying that it agreed with the jury’s finding that OSF employees were not negligent. The hospital said it was reviewing its options in regard to the finding that the hospital was the apparent principal of the doctor who was found negligent.

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The Chicago Illinois personal injury law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County.
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