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Wrightsville Beach Personal Injury Law Blog

Medical technologies raise new concerns about errors

According to researchers, medical errors of various types may be the third-leading cause of death in North Carolina and across the country. Various efforts to introduce artificial intelligence to the healthcare environment are often spurred on by an attempt to cut down on patient risks caused by human error. These machines often enjoy exceptional performance; one found in Oxford is reportedly capable of exceeding cardiologists' success rate in identifying a patient's risk of a potential heart attack.

Other types of artificial intelligence at use in the medical field include machines that diagnose skin cancer, identify a vision-threatening eye problem or recognize types of lung cancer. However, just as AI raises new potential for accuracy, it also raises new concerns about errors of a different type. Some medical mistakes may be caused by the machine or its algorithm rather than a specific physician or surgeon. It may not be immediately clear who is at fault if a machine fails to diagnose a patient or, in later iterations, improperly performs a surgery.

scans could lead to prosPET tate cancer misdiagnoses

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers experienced by men in North Carolina and across the country. In order to determine the stage the cancer has reached, doctors use a PET scan for prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA). PSMA is an enzyme that is found in prostate cancer cells and in areas where the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body. It is very expressive and responsive to imaging, making it a target for PET scans that determine the current stage of the disease.

However, researchers have noted that using PSMA PET scans on their own could potentially lead to misdiagnoses with serious results for patients. There are benign tissues in the body that can also show increased visibility of the enzyme without the cancer having metastasized. These include areas in the bowels, kidney and salivary glands, but they can be confused with lymph nodes to which the cancer has spread. If a patient is misdiagnosed as a result of the scan, he could be subjected to extra therapy that is unnecessary and even harmful.

Man claims doctor failed to diagnose his West Nile virus

North Carolina residents should know that in rare cases, the West Nile virus can cause the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no specific vaccine or antiviral treatment to address or prevent West Nile, but those with a mild form of the virus can take over-the-counter medications or fever reducers.

Typical symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, body aches, sleepiness and tremors. Four years ago, a Nebraska man was bitten on the leg by a mosquito while mowing his lawn and went to the doctor once he began to experience some of these symptoms. A neighbor had been diagnosed with West Nile, so he suspected that he had contracted it too. However, the doctor dismissed the symptoms and never tested the man's blood for the virus.

Many misdiagnoses are the result of cognitive errors

Some misdiagnoses that occur in emergency rooms in North Carolina may not be because of hospital processes but as a result of physicians' cognitive errors. Researchers conducted a study at an urban public hospital and found that 45 percent of the errors were the result of processing information wrong.

The study examined data over an eight-month period for patients who made a second visit to the emergency room in 72 hours and were admitted on that second visit. It identified 52 errors. Faulty verification was responsible for nearly one-third of all errors while 18 percent were because of faulty information gathering and 6 percent were because of knowledge errors.

Insurer says most radiology claims involve injury or death

Around 80 percent of radiology-related medical liability claims in North Carolina and elsewhere are due to misdiagnosis, according to a new study. Worse, over 80 percent of those misdiagnosis claims involve patients who have died or suffered a permanent injury.

The study was conducted by Coverys, a leading medical liability insurer. The company said that radiology errors are common and have the potential to cause severe harm to patients. In order to improve patient safety and reduce errors, researchers analyzed over 10,000 closed Coverys claims filed from 2013 to 2017, identifying the most common risk factors and safety issues. They discovered that around 15 percent of all diagnosis-related medical malpractice claims were filed against radiologists. Of those, 80 percent involved the misinterpretation of medical tests and over 80 percent involved permanent injuries or death. They found that cancer was the most commonly misdiagnosed disease, with breast, lung, pancreatic as well as ovarian cancers involved with the highest percentage claims.

Genetic tests reveal cause of seizure disorder in children

Early infantile epileptic encephalopathy is a neurological disorder occurring in 1.2 out of every 1,000 live births, and it is characterized by seizures that begin around the first few months of life. Children with EIEE experience developmental delays and impaired psychomotor learning. North Carolina residents should know that recent tests have uncovered the genetic cause behind this disorder.

Non-genetic causes of EIEE have long been known, such as structural brain malformations and birth injuries, but genetic ones were previously unidentified. Now, a team from University of Utah Health has been able to pinpoint some of these genetic causes with whole-genome sequencing.

Afternoon hospital visits can pose risk of errors

While people in North Carolina may expect to receive equally fine health care at any time of day, statistics show that going to the hospital in the afternoon may be riskier than at other times of the day. Normal bodily rhythms can often lead to a sluggish, slow feeling in the late afternoon. Productivity often drops in offices at around 3:00 p.m., and the same can be true for hospitals. Of course, the consequences can be much more severe when doctors and other medical professionals are too fatigued to exercise good judgment.

In one study of 90,000 hospital surgeries, anesthesiologists were found to be more likely to make errors during a procedure when it began in the mid-afternoon. While the risk of a mistake by an anesthesiologist was only 1 percent at 9:00 a.m., by 4:00 p.m. it had grown to 4.2 percent. The risk of these medical mistakes causing injury to patients also increased as the day went on. The researchers attributed the mistakes to natural afternoon lows, but the effects on patients of an anesthesiology mistake can be devastating.

First lawsuit filed over Missouri duck boat accident

When North Carolina residents take a commercial boat tour, they expect the trip will go smoothly. However, attorneys representing the families of two people who drowned in a Missouri duck boat accident on July 19 claim the vessel was dangerous. As a result, they have filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the boat, Ripley Entertainment.

Seventeen people died when a Ride the Ducks boat sank in severe weather on Table Rock Lake in Branson. Nine of the victims were from the same Indiana family. The lawsuit, which was filed by relatives of two victims from that family, claims that Ripley dismissed storm warnings and failed to take proper safety measures on the day of the accident. It further contends that the company ignored safety warnings about the dangers of placing canopies on duck boats and failed to correct improperly installed bilge pumps.

Patients quickly interrupted by doctors, study finds

A study found that patients in North Carolina and elsewhere may not have enough time to explain why they are visiting their doctors. The study looked at 112 cases between 2008 and 2015 involving initial interactions between medical professionals and patients that were taped throughout the country. One of the key takeaways was that a doctor interrupted a patient just 11 seconds on average after he or she started to talk.

The researchers noted that interrupting a patient could be a good way to refocus the conversation. However, they also had doubts that there was a benefit to doing so during the first part of a visit. It was also noted that primary care doctors gave more leeway than specialists. This was partially because specialists already had an idea as to why a patient scheduled an appointment. A lack of time allotted to spend with patients was another reason given as to why they were not always allowed to speak.

Medical errors and doctor burnout

According to a national survey, over half of the doctors in North Carolina and the rest of the United States are suffering from the reversible, work-related condition of burnout. The results also show that these doctors have an increased chance of committing medical errors.

For the poll, almost 6,700 hospital and clinic physicians were asked questions about depression, medical errors, symptoms of workplace burnout, suicidal thoughts and workplace safety. Over 10 percent of the doctors polled stated that they had made at least one serious medical error within the last three months before they participated in the survey. The investigators who conducted the survey concluded that the medical professionals suffering from burnout were two times as likely to commit a medical mistake.

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