Medical Error: Third Leading Cause of Death in the United States

Medical Error Third Leading Cause of Death in the United States

Medical Error Third Leading Cause of Death in the United States

Role of Evidence-Based Guidelines in Medical Malpractice

Medical errors rank behind heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death in the United States (see BMJ 2016; 353:i2139), with over 250,000 deaths a year.  700 a day.  And despite tort reform, medical malpractice litigation will never entirely disappear.  It remains important for physicians to understand the elements of a malpractice claim not only to protect themselves but more importantly to improve patient care.

The most confusing aspect of a medical malpractice claim is the standard of care element, and this is further complicated by the increasing use of evidence-based guidelines (EBG) or practice guidelines.  In some countries, EBG provide the legal standard of care, while most common law countries such as UK, Australia and New Zealand place great reliance on guidelines but allow courts discretion in accepting them on a case by case basis.

In the United States, most courts allow testimony using EBG both for and against physicians.  Whether a particular guideline applies to a specific case is simply another argument for the expert witnesses with the jury deciding who to believe.  In most cases, the actual written EBG may not be admissible as an exhibit.  It would fall into the same category as learned treatises and medical journals – the witness can talk about it and be cross-examined, but the document itself is not admissible.  Some courts have adopted a more liberal approach by admitting EBG as demonstrative aids.  Regardless of which approach, a physician on trial for malpractice must recognize that although EBG are not sacrosanct, any deviation from the guideline represents a very powerful argument to the judge or jury.

Neurologist and Attorney James C. Johnston, MD, JD and renowned medical malpractice attorney Thomas P. Sartwelle published the seminal article on expert witnesses discussing guidelines in the Journal of Child Neurology (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0883073813479669).

Dr. James C. Johnston is one of the very few neurologists in the world that is also qualified in law, and licensed to practice both professions.  He wrote the comprehensive chapter on advancing a neurology malpractice claim in Preparing and Winning Medical Negligence Cases, Third Edition (http://www.jurispub.com/Neurology-Chapter-11-Preparing-And-Winning-Medical-Negligence-Cases-Third-Edition.html).

He has published a number of journal articles and book chapters on how neurologists can improve patient care and protect themselves from malpractice claims.  These publications include book chapters in multiple editions of the American College of Legal Medicine textbook Legal Medicine and Medical Ethics, the Medical Malpractice Survival Handbook, and the landmark three volume treatise Legal and Forensic Medicine.  Dr. James Christopher Johnston has published peer-reviewed articles in Neurology Clinics, Journal of Child Neurology, Headache, Medical Law International, Journal of Legal Medicine, Medicine and Law, and a number of other journals.

In a recent Neurologic Clinics, Dr. James Christopher Johnston published a case studies article highlighting specific neurology claims related to malpractice (https://www.neurologic.theclinics.com/article/S0733-8619(16)30011-1/abstract).  This was co-authored with Thomas P. Sartwelle and leading neurosurgeon Professor Dr. Knut Wester, with the purpose of providing recommendations to improve patient care and safety.

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GLOBAL NEUROLOGY REPORT: A CRITIQUE OF ELECTRONIC FETAL MONITORING

 

The Surgery Journal recently published a peer reviewed critique of electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) by neurologist James C. Johnston, MD, JD and leading healthcare attorney Thomas P. Sartwelle.

These authors, Thomas P. Sartwelle and Dr. James C. Johnston, along with pre-eminent medical ethicist Professor Dr. Berna Arda, have repeatedly advised that continuous EFM should not be performed in routine labour due to a 99.8% false positive rate, and the fact it does not predict or prevent cerebral palsy or any other neonatal neurological injury.

EFM does increase the caesarean section rate, with an increase in maternal and newborn deaths and birth complications as well as devastating long term complications. In fact, these very concerns have led Australia, New Zealand and the UK to advise returning to intermittent auscultation (IA) instead of EFM, and in 2017 the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology finally provided a long overdue recommendation that women be given an informed choice between IA and EFM.

Unfortunately, there are EFM apologists continuing to defend the procedure, and journal editors suppressing scientific debate on the topic. This most recent Surgery Journal article exposes one example of these harmful practices, and should raise serious questions about those EFM proponents recommending a procedure that causes more harm than good to mothers and babies alike. But perhaps the more disturbing aspect is a medical journal editor determined to stifle scholarly debate.

This open access article is available through the following link:

https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0038-1632404

The authors have also published their concerns in the Journal of Child Neurology, Maternal Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, British Medical Journal, Neurologic Clinics, Journal of Pediatric Care, Maternal Health Neonatology and Perinatology, Medical Law International, Surgery Journal and several other journals and books. These articles are available at James C. Johnston’s ResearchGate.net site:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James_Johnston6/contributions

GLOBAL NEUROLOGY REPORT: WORLD ASSOCIATION FOR MEDICAL LAW CONFERENCE

World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress

World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress

The 50th Anniversary Meeting and 23rd World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress was held on 9-14 July 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Leading international experts from around the globe discussed topics related to GlobalHealth, Medical Law and Bioethics.

Drs. James C. Johnston, Mehila Zebenigus and Guta Zenebe presented recommendations for improving relations between developed and developing countries through guidelines that focus on ethically advancing collaborative partnerships to improve health care. This topic followed Dr. Johnston’s lecture last year at the WAML meeting in Los Angeles, USA discussing the medical, ethical and legal problems that arise when Western countries engage in short term medical missions to resource limited nations, resulting in medical paternalism, doctor tourism and actual harm to the very patients that are most desperate for help.  Specific examples of these problems were presented at both meetings, along with clear guidelines on how to avoid the harmful effects of these self-serving missions.

Drs. James C. Johnston and Mehila Zebenigus also discussed concerns related to neuroimaging for the patient presenting with headache. They recommended deleting the currently used guidelines because those guidelines are outdated, and have been a contributing factor in the continuing misdiagnosis of headache disorders.  Dr. Zebenigus discussed the management of the patient with headache in Ethiopia.

Drs. Thomas P. Sartwelle, James C. Johnston, Berna Arda and Mehila Zebenigus highlighted the concerns related to using electronic fetal monitoring in sub-Saharan Africa, how that procedure causes more harm than good, and wastes scarce resources that would be better used helping children with cerebral palsy.

In terms of disclosure, Drs. Zebenigus and Johnston are Directors of the non-profit organization Global NeuroCare® which focuses on advancing neurological services in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly Ethiopia, and is actively involved in all of these areas.