Staph Infections in Hospitals – Keep Yourself and Loved Ones Safe

It is no secret that staph infections are a problem.  And in hospital ICUs, about three-quarters of staph infections are methicillin-resistant.  So reduction of staph infections is extremely important.  Science Daily and the excellent DC Medical Malpractice & Patient Safety blog have written about an important study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed a drastic reduction in staph infections was achieved with two simple actions:

  • Use of antibacterial soap
  • Use of antibiotic ointments for all ICU patients

The study showed that infections were drastically reduced by use of these simple methods.   This is very important, especially for older immuno-compromised folks in the hospital.

Medical Misdiagnoses More Common Than Drug Errors and Wrong-Site Surgery: A Little Humility Goes a Long Way

We are often led to believe that medical misdiagnoses are rare, and that drug errors and wrong-site surgery are more common.  A recent article in the Washington Post  debunks this belief.  The article discusses the case of a physician, Itzhak Brook, whose throat cancer was misdiagnosed – by very good specialists – as acid reflux.  Who made the correct diagnosis?  A resident, not the specialists.   So much for ceding our health completely to specialists.   The doctor lived, but now speaks in a whisper.

Another sobering example from the article:  Karen Holliman was put through an odyssey of more than 50 medical visits with a variety of doctors, who told her that her fatigue and back pain were caused by fibromyalgia or psychiatric problems, when she actually had developed metastatic breast cancer.  Of course, the lawyers for the involved hospital denied any liability.  Karen is terminally ill.  She is 52 years old.

Some of the more general findings mentioned in the article include these:

  • 10-20% of medical cases involve medical misdiagnoses
  • 28% of medical errors reported anonymously by doctors were life-threatening, according to a 2009 study
  • 40,500 deaths each year are related to ICU misdiagnoses
  • the vast majority of misdiagnoses do not result in any legal action
  • overconfidence by physicians contributes to misdiagnoses

There is likely no one easy answer for these troubling findings, but a couple of things may help.  First, doctors should not be afraid of sending patients for second opinions.  Also, maybe more doctors can practice a little humility and take the time to do correct differential diagnoses, spend a little time with their patients talking with them and carefully observing them.  Maybe a little old-fashioned attention to the people who trust them with their health will go a long way toward preventing these types of outcomes.  Medical technology is great, but spending time with patients may be the best medicine of all.

Myths of Medical Malpractice

I wanted to share a very good article that reveals some truths about medical malpractice in our country.   It might be hoped that articles debunking the common myths about medical malpractice and “tort-reform” legislation would not still be necessary, but false beliefs have a tenacity that is sometimes hard to explain.  Maybe it’s just that people tend to believe untrue things when the belief in those false things serves some other conscious or unconscious purpose.  Nonetheless, belief in fairy tales is no basis for making laws that affect all of us when we visit a hospital or doctor’s office.

This article is important not just because it shows the falsity of these myths, but because of who wrote it and who published it.   A physician and a professor collaborated to write an article entitled Five Myths of Medical Malpractice.  In the article, the authors examine certain false beliefs – including the belief that the civil jury trial system delivers unusually high verdicts, and the belief that physicians move to states with damage caps (caps on the amount of money a person can receive in a malpractice case).  These and a few other common falsehoods are exposed in detail and with plenty of supporting evidence.

It is also revealing that the journal Chest published this article This is a peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.   My hope is that the physician-readers will study this article with an open mind and begin to at least wonder whether the whole “tort-reform” movement is simply a manufactured “crisis” that may serve insurance companies needs, but does nothing to help physicians and, more importantly, does nothing to make patients safer.

Citizen Alert: Special Interests Trying to Take Away Our Right to Trial By Jury in Medical Malpractice Cases

One thing that many large corporations and insurance companies can’t stand is that ordinary citizens in Georgia and across the United States have the right to trial by jury in civil cases.  This sacred right runs against the mindset of those who believe that only large companies and the wealthy should get to make the rules.  Whether it’s environmental contamination, medical negligence, unsafe trucks on the road or defective products, many companies would rather blame their victims for the harm they cause instead of acting more safely.   Juries scare these companies because juries can make them act more safely and hold them responsible when they don’t.

These special interests are always on the prowl, looking for ways to take away our rights, often by passing laws that close the courthouse doors to us.  But the problem is that these companies can’t just come out openly and say “we want to enact laws that take away your right to trial by jury and that deny you the right to hold us accountable when we harm you, harm your families, harm your neighbors or damage your property.”  They know everyone would reject such obvious attempts at one-sided legislation.

Instead, these corporations and their allies in the PR business are much slicker than that – they come up with really nice-sounding names for their proposed laws so we won’t seek the rotten core of what lurks beneath the surface.  One such recent attempt in Georgia is by an outfit calling itself the “Patients for Fair Compensation” and they are trying to get the Georgia legislature to adopt a law – called the Patient Injury Act – that takes away our right to trial by jury in cases where Georgia citizens are injured by the actions of corporate hospitals and healthcare providers.  As Georgia Watch reports, this group is actually led by healthcare industry executives who are seeking to shut the courthouse doors for the oldest of reasons – they don’t want to be responsible to us for the terrible harms that can be caused by medical negligence.

Ordinary citizens who cause a wreck on the road or otherwise harm someone can be held accountable by a fair jury of 12 citizens in Georgia.  Why should these healthcare corporations and other monied special interests get special privileges that the rest of us don’t have?  There is no reasonable excuse for this type of law that takes away our Constitutional rights, and we should let our Georgia lawmakers know we won’t accept it.  Please take a minute to call your Georgia state legislator and let them know that you don’t approve of Senate Bill 141.  And if they vote for it, let’s hold them responsible at the ballot box.

Risk of Fire and Injury from Home Dryers

I wanted to share some information that I came across about the dangers associated with dryers in homes.  According to this recent article by Brian Dakss at, dryers account for 15,000 house fires every year.   That number was a bit of a surprise to me.  An engineer with Underwriters Laboratory, John Drengenberg, mentions in the article that a common cause of these fires is lint.  The lint can build up in the lint trap, according to Drengenberg, and cause excessive heat and eventually a fire.

So, what should we do?  Drengenberg advises folks to clean the lint trap before or after every load, and each year the pipes and exhaust vent should be cleaned thoroughly.  Also, we should not put certain items stained with oil or gasoline in the dryer, and should avoid putting rubber or plastic items in the dryer as well.

One clue to look for to determine if lint is building up is that your clothes are not drying as well as they should.