Legal Background

It has been estimated that over 90% of medical malpractices cases settle prior to trial. Why? There are several reasons. Litigating a lawsuit is extremely expensive, particularly when the case goes to trial and involves retaining experts to testify, etc. Another reason cases are often settled is that juries are notoriously unpredictable. A jury may sympathize with a plaintiff, even if the facts are not in his favor. Similarly, even if the defendant has the facts on his side, if he comes off as unsympathetic or arrogant, a jury may be swayed by that. Finally, the emotional and mental toll of a medical malpractice case is heavy, and not all healthcare practitioners are cut out for the long-term stress that comes with a medical malpractice trial.

Protecting Yourself

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This case is a clear example of how a lack of communication can be deadly. There were actually several communication failures. Dr. P failed to communicate to the nursing staff 1) that the patient should be continuously monitored, and 2) that the medication should be adjusted based on the patient’s response. The nursing staff failed to communicate to Dr. P that the patient was in an overflow room and was not being continuously monitored. Dr. P also claimed to be unaware of the patient’s blood alcohol level, which indicates that he didn’t look at the patient’s chart carefully, and that he didn’t have an in-depth conversation with the nursing staff.

Lack of communication is often caused by making assumptions. Dr. P assumed that the nursing staff was monitoring the patient. The nursing staff assumed that Dr. P had all the facts when issuing the medication order. These assumptions ultimately led to the death of a patient.

It’s extremely important to clearly communicate with co-workers and staff (as well as with patients themselves). Taking the time to gather and share all necessary information can make a world of difference in the outcome of a patient. This patient’s death might have been avoided had both Dr. P and the nursing staff been better communicators.