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When a patient agrees to participate in a medical trial, she should not have to worry that she will sustain fatal injuries as a result of her participation. However, according to a recent article in Fortune Magazine, a drug trial for an Alnylam Pharmaceuticals medication has been shut down following the death of 18 participants. When a patient agrees to participate in a drug trial, what exactly does she agree to? And when a participant in a drug trial suffers fatal injuries as a result of her participation, can her survivors file a wrongful death lawsuit?

Learning More About Clinical Trials and Patient Participation

Before we get into the facts of the recent drug trials and the participant deaths, what should you know about clinical trials? According to a fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), clinical trials can take many different shapes, including those for new drugs aimed at treating current diseases. Specifically, the type of clinical trial in the Alnylam Pharmaceuticals case was a "treatment trial," which is defined as a clinic trial to "test new treatments, new combinations of drugs, or new approaches to surgery or radiation therapy." As the NIH fact sheet clarifies, "the goal of [these] clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe."

Yet clinical trials cannot simply expose patients to all sorts of unethical risks of harm. As the NIH explains, patients must first give informed consent to participating in the trial, and then most clinical trials must be approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The point of the IRB is to "ensure that the risks are minimal and are worth any potential benefits."

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According to a recent article in Healthcare IT News, hospitals in Champaign and across the country are beginning to think about handling medical errors a little bit differently. In short, as the article explains, many facilities are taking "a more open approach to medical errors" based on a number of studies suggesting that patients want to have as much information as possible when something goes wrong. Until relatively recently, many physicians indicated that they were anxious about how to handle medical errors that occurred in hospitals because of concerns about restrictions on information-sharing. After all, when a doctor makes a medical error while practicing in a hospital, the injured patient (or her family) may be able to file a medical malpractice claim against the hospital.

When we hear that physicians and surgeons are being more open about medical errors, what does this mean in practice? Will patients have access to more information about how the mistake happened in the first place? And will less secrecy surrounding medical mistakes actually result in more medical negligence claims against hospitals?

Deciding Whether to Apologize and to Disclose Details

While doctors and patients alike would prefer to be at a point where we do not need to think about how medical errors in a hospital—or rather, the aftermath of those mistakes—should be handled, it does not seem as though that moment is in the very near future. While a recent study reported in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that previously reported findings of medical mistake rates might not be entirely accurate, we still know that medical errors occur with enough frequency in hospitals that we need to be talking about how these facilities, and the surgeons working there, should handle them.

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Posted on in Medical Malpractice

When most of us think about the risks of injury due to medical errors, we consider hazards at hospitals and other facilities where we might see a physician or a surgeon. Yet medical malpractice, also known as medical negligence, can happen in a wide variety of locations around Naperville. While medical mistakes do occur with some frequency in the hospital setting, it is important to think carefully about other forms of medical errors, such as those that occur in dentists' offices. As an article from Registered Dental Hygienist Magazine emphasizes, "medical errors leading to adverse events can occur in dentistry." In other words, whenever you visit your dentist's office for a cleaning, or make a follow-up appointment for a cavity, you could be at risk of sustaining an injury.

What do you need to know about medical mistakes in dentistry and filing a medical malpractice lawsuit?

Identifying Common Errors Made By Dentists and Hygienists

What are some of the most common mistakes made in dental care? According to the article in Registered Dental Hygienist Magazine and an article from Dentistry IQ Magazine, a resource for dental professionals, the following are some examples of common mistakes that may lead to a dental malpractice lawsuit:

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Medical Malpractice and the High Rates of Medical Mistakes

According to a recent report from PBS NewsHour, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently list medical mistakes or medical errors as causes of death when it compiles its annual statistics. However, researchers from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) emphasize that medical errors are actually the third-leading cause of death in our country, and we need to do more both to prevent them and to raise awareness about their severity.

While we do not have precise numbers that show the total number of deaths each year from medical mistakes, a new paper from JHU researchers suggests that "as many as 250,000 people die each year from errors in hospitals and other healthcare facilities." When we put that number up against other known causes of death in the United States—including respiratory diseases, accidents, and strokes—we find that medical mistakes are in fact the third most common killer in our country. Given that many of these medical errors are completely avoidable, it is important for patients who have been injured to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in order to seek financial compensation.

Details of the Recent Research on Medical Negligence

According to the report, the JHU researchers prefaced their study by making clear that "the numbers are scarce" when it comes to having a definitive figure for fatalities resulting from medical errors. However, what we do have—and what the researchers relied upon—were "studies of hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations in the top medical journals." The author of the study, Dr. Martin Makary, explained that, through the numbers and incidents discussed in these journals, he was able to come up with the figure of 251,000 deadly medical errors per year. This figure falls within the broad range that researchers have suspected for quite a while—between 200,000 and 400,000 fatal medical mistakes annually.

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More hospitals and patient facilities are turning to electronic health records (EHRs) to keep track of patients' medical histories, but according to a recent article in Medscape, EHRs could pose serious risks of medical malpractice. If you are a patient in Naperville and learn that you have suffered a preventable injury due to a drug-allergy interaction, for instance, you might consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. As the article emphasizes, EHRs may seem like a better way to keep patient records, avoiding some consequences of human error. However, until physicians, nurses, and other hospital staff members use EHRs exactly as they were intended (without making any mistakes in the system), the risks of medical negligence could in fact increase.

Learning More About EHRs in Naperville

To better understand how medical malpractice risks can come with the introduction of EHRs, we should take a closer look at how these systems work. In short, they are records that are kept electronically—as the name suggests—but they still require human input. For example, these tools have patient portals through which patients and doctors can send secure messages. Then, when a secure message is received, the physician's office should log it into the patient's file (along with any kind of advice given in a response) to keep track of the patient's recent health history.

These systems also contain valuable information about patients' drug allergies and other health conditions. In general, this is a good thing—doctors can know about a potentially harmful drug interaction just by logging into the system (and without sorting through hard-copy materials, during which time a mistake could be made). However, in order for the system to identify a potentially dangerous allergy, that allergy information needs to be entered properly in the first place. Otherwise, you can imagine a scenario in which a doctor sees that the EHR identifies no drug interactions and prescribes a certain medication, only to learn that the system failed to detect the allergy because it was not entered into the record properly.

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