Insult to Injury-Should Hospitals Bill for Never-Should-Happen Mistakes

In the world of medical practice, there are different kinds of mistakes. Some are classified as those that never should happen. Like operating on the wrong leg or the wrong patient. Or transfusing with mismatching blood. Simple system controls should make these never-happen events the stuff of fiction.

So what happens when surgery gets done on the wrong leg or the wrong person. In the perfect world, it should be very simple. Those who made the mistake should apologize, cover the patient’s harms and losses, and improve their systems to make sure these things don’t recur. That’ s not too hard.

But that often doesn’t happen. In many cases, the hospital or physician goes so far as to bill for the mistaken procedure. Let me see if I’ve got this straight: A patient goes in for surgery on a right hernia, and the surgical team mistakenly opens the left side, checks it, finds it’s fine, and then opens and repairs the right. Tell me you’re not really going to bill for the mistake?!

Oddly enough, it happens way too often. Here’s a url of a recent summary of the issue: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23341360/

Interestingly, the story talks about patients who describe themselves as non-litigous being outraged to the point of filing a claim when billed for these procedures. I know that the talk show commentators report otherwise and that politicians love to push the notion that everyone sues. Not so. From the trenches a simple truth emerges. Very few people want to revisit the mistakes that left them horribly injured, and even fewer want to go to court. But read their stories, especially if you think that the civil justice system is broken or that the courthouse doors should be locked tight against those with injury claims.

David F. Sugerman

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