12 News Defenders: Medical Mistakes - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

12 News Defenders: Medical Mistakes

Joann Ellison Shiver and her mother,  Lauree Ellison. Ellison died of MRSA. The family filed and won a $3 million suit against Baptist East. The hospital is appealing. Joann Ellison Shiver and her mother, Lauree Ellison. Ellison died of MRSA. The family filed and won a $3 million suit against Baptist East. The hospital is appealing.

Joann Ellison Shiver says her mother fell through the cracks.  Lauree Ellison went to Baptist East Medical Center where a test revealed she had the MRSA staff strain. The Ellison family was never informed of the results.  Once home from the hospital, and without treatment for the infection, the family says Ellison's health deteriorated. "We took her back to Baptist East and they said she probably wouldn't make it," recalls Shiver.

Ellison died in November of 2005. The family filed a wrongful death suit and won a $3 million judgement against Baptist.

A study by the Institute of Medicine shows between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die every year as a result of medical mistakes. Some medical experts say that number is much higher. It makes medical errors one of the leading causes of death. The Joint Commission reports the most common medical mistakes are wrong-site surgery, post-op complications, delay in treatment and medication errors.

Larry Dixon is the Executive Director for the State Board of Medical Examiners. His office reviews all malpractice judgements and settlements. That totaled 119 cases in 2012.  Dixon says neglect on the part of the doctor is rare, but communication breakdown is one of the biggest problems. "The patient doesn't understand what the care was directed toward or what to expect," he explains.

"The bottom line is speak up," says Dr. Walter Geary. Geary serves as the Medical Director of Health Provider standards for the Alabama Department of Public Health. He says there are systems in place to prevent medical mix ups, but mistakes still happen.  He says questions are the answer.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a list of questions every patient should ask their doctor. 

Those include:

  1. How many times have you done this procedure?
  2. What are the possible complications?
  3. How do you spell the name of that drug?
  4. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I'm already taking?

"These could be life saving questions," says Dr. Geary. He adds, "Patients need to know their rights. They have a right to be informed of medications that they are getting, of procedures, what the risks and potentially complications are."

It has been 8 years since Joann Ellison Shiver's mother died. Shiver encourages both medical staff and patients to pay closer attention to their healthcare; she doesn't want another family to lose their loved one.  She says it could happen to, "My family, your family, everybody.  My mother lost her life. "

Baptist has filed for a rehearing with the Alabama Supreme Court regarding the $3 million judgement against it. Baptist has said it has governmental immunity because of an affiliation with UAB Medical School.

Baptist tells us "Until the matter is settled, we are unable to comment further. We take patient safety very seriously and continue to make investments in capital, training and people to ensure that all patients receive safe, effective and timely care in all Baptist Health facilities."

For a complete list of questions you should ask your doctor click here.

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