Massachusetts is home to some of the most prestigious, most technologically advanced, and highest quality hospitals in the country. Many of the nation’s best trained doctors staff these hospitals and practice medicine in Massachusetts. While the quality of medical care in Massachusetts remains at a very high level, there has been a persistent rise in the number of malpractice suits filed in our courts. Most of these claims are filed against primary care physicians and the overwhelmingly majority of them are rooted in allegations of misdiagnosis.
The Boston Globe recently reported on the most common medical malpractice complaints. The article discusses a new study where the most common bases for malpractice suits were found to include accusations of diagnostic mistakes, alleged errors where a physician failed to make a proper referral to a specialist, rushed physical exams, and patient neglect. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital study found that 72 percent of malpractice suits focused on these types of alleged medical misconduct.
A potential malpractice claim may arise from the treatment rendered to a patient by a primary care physician where the physician has no specific specialty, but has the duty to know when to make a referral to a specialist. The study leader offered that diagnostic mistakes are the worst problem. The doctors who conducted the study examined the records of 550 malpractice lawsuits involving primary care physicians dating back to 2005. Of those lawsuits, 190 alleged the misdiagnosis of cancer, and 108 of them claimed the doctor failed to make appropriate diagnoses of heart disease, blood vessel diseases, infections, and strokes.
The rising number of complaints of misdiagnosis by doctors of patients’ physical ailments is mirrored by the rise in patients’ complaints against doctors over-diagnosing mental illness and blithely prescribing powerful behavior altering prescription drugs, apparently in an effort to sedate and control behavior. A bill presently before the state legislature focuses on the over prescription of psychotic drugs in nursing homes. And while the problem is more acute for the elderly, it is also clearly more widespread than that; affecting and threatening all Massachusetts residents.
The bill before the legislature is focused on the potential for abuse in assisted living facilities designed for elderly patients. The bill aims to require that prescribing care givers must receive informed consent from patients or their responsible family members before they may administer powerful drugs that present particularly high risks of injury or death to older patients. Requiring informed consent is essential to making our nursing homes safer for our elderly loved ones, just as properly diagnosing medical issues and making appropriate referrals must be prioritized and made achievable goals for Massachusetts doctors and hospitals.