We recently shared some of what the landmark Hearst Report, Dead by Mistake, had to say about patient safety in California. Well it has a few similarly frightening things to say about Texas too, so we thought we’d give you the lowdown.
Granted, the sorry state of civil justice in Texas, as chronicled by groups like Texas Watch, is something we’ve been following for some time, so the scathing nature of the Hearst report didn’t exactly come as a surprise—particularly given the report’s focus on patient safety.
And as we’ve mentioned, there is a direct link between states like Texas with Draconian, one-size-fits-all “caps,” and an injured patient’s inability to bring a medical malpractice claim. (According to one attorney, Texas lawyers now accept just one out of every 300 malpractice cases that cross their desks.) So at the same time that the vast majority of malpractice incidents are not coming to light through litigation, there is a significant underreporting of medical errors. This is especially true, given a half-baked 2003 reporting law that, among other things, allowed Texas hospitals to keep their names secret—and revealed only the most general error totals to the public.
Needless to say, the useless law was finally scrapped in 2007. And while the state now supposedly reports “adverse” medical events to the national accrediting organization, the Joint Commission, “the reporting is not mandatory, and the data is not public.”
What’s really suffering here? Patient safety, of course. Medical errors are clearly on the rise, with complaints against Texas doctors rising from 2,942 to 6000 in just the first year the Texan “cap” was established.
The Hearst report goes on to profile a few of these horrendous mistakes, like the tragic story of a 63-year-old man who is now essentially paralyzed after a “steroid injection into his spine for arm and back pain resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage that locked him forever inside his useless body.” The man recently settled a civil action against his doctor, though most of the money was used to continue his life insurance policies and reimburse his health insurance company, which considered “what happened to him an unusual event not foreseen as part of his coverage.”
But money wasn’t the only concern for the man and his family. “I want them to be more careful,” said the man’s wife.
Or as the widow of a man who died after a feeding tube was inadvertently placed in his lung told Hearst, “I’m [suing] because the system is broken…The system is broken and its time to fix it."