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filmfann's avatar

When a doctors misdiagnosis results in death, does any government agency keep track?

Asked by filmfann (40194 points ) October 4th, 2012

A friend of mine recently went to the doctor for difficulty breathing. The doctor gave him an inhaler. 2 hours later, he was dead from a heart attack.
My Mom went to a doctor for a cold. He wasn’t concerned about it. 3 days later, she was taken to a hospital by ambulance, in a coma 2 days later, and she never woke up.

I understand medicine is not an exact science, but does anyone follow up on such misdiagnosis, and notice if some doctors end up killing a lot more of their patients?

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15 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

NYS follows up on this fairly well. It’s one perk to living here.

wundayatta's avatar

I hope so. But generally, they system depends on law suits to hold doctors accountable and to get them to improve their practices if they don’t do it on their own. Of course, conservatives don’t like science and want to get in the way of it and protect businesses and doctors from suffering due to their mistakes. So, when we get Republican administrations, we see a lot of efforts at “tort reform.” Tort reform is no friend to any of us who want to have a chance to stay healthy.

wds2's avatar

I would imagine that they would be sued for malpractice. Court cases are in the public record. You could go to your local (probably county) law library and search for these doctors in the record. It may be time consuming, but, as far as I know, it is the best way.

@wundayatta I don’t see how politics has that much to do with this, please don’t try to pressure us towards your views.

Bellatrix's avatar

I am so sorry about your friend and your mother @filmfann. In Queensland we are still dealing with the aftermath of Dr Jayant Patel. Of the 1202 patients he treated (2003–2005) 87 died. He was labelled Dr Death by nurses in the hospital where he worked. He was tried and found guilty but the conviction has recently been quashed because of the inclusion of prejudicial evidence presented at his trial. I don’t know what will happen with him now. It is a terrible thing for those who survived his care or those who lost loved ones.

I believe the government put in place mechanisms to prevent inadequately trained doctors from being appointed. The only reason the Patel situation came to light was because of a whistle-blower. Despite concerns, nobody did anything until one lone nurse made a lot of noise to the press (I think). There are concerns now that cost cutting by our new State government will lead to more of these types of problems as safeguards are removed or not adequately managed. This news story is quite interesting. It relates to surgeons but is topical to your “question”.

In the UK there was also the very disturbing case of Harold Shipman. It was years before anyone picked up on the number of deaths amongst his patients. Again, it was a lone doctor who became suspicious rather than any systemic identification of a problem. I know there have again been safeguards put in place, but how effective they are in identifying misdiagnosis that leads to death, I have no idea.

hearkat's avatar

If patients or their families file complaints with the State Licensure Board, the state will keep track. But if no one reports the incident, the regulators may never know about it.

Kayak8's avatar

In most states, usually at the state health department, there is a review of children’s deaths as a matter of course (and the people who work in that unit usually don’t work there very long because it can be very trying). There is even a national center of childhood fatality review.

As an offshoot of the above, there is also a great deal of attention paid to maternal deaths if they happen within a short span of the mom delivering. This is just standard public health.

As more and more state vital statistics units become electronic (death certificate data), it is easier for patterns to be identified (certain doctors, etc.), but there are certain specialties in medicine (e.g., oncologists) who expect to have higher than normal death rates among their patients. So, as noted above, most adult deaths due to misdiagnosis comes about as a result of complaints. Misdiagnosis is not uncommon (very rarely does someone only have one thing wrong with them, so one of the diagnoses is often correct).

Individual deaths may be missed, but hospital systems are particularly designed to pick up on patterns. Electronic health records will also improve these systems.

zenvelo's avatar

Hospitals do run morbidity reviews of patients that die there, especially if there is something like a misdiagnosis. Hospitals will report to the State Licensing Board a doctor they find incompetent or careless.

wundayatta's avatar

@wds2 If you feel pressure, that’s on you. I am certainly not pressuring you. I have no idea who you are. I am merely stating something that you seemed to state, too. It is through lawsuits that this kind of information gets transferred, and it is good to collect this information. Any law that gets in the way of information, such as those typically proposed by Republicans, will be bad for the preservation of information necessary to help health care improve.

Judi's avatar

My cousin went to the ER for stomach pains, was given pain pills and went home and died. I don’t know if anyone keeps track, but it would be interesting to know if the misdiagnosis happens more often with the poor and uninsured than with those with good insurance.

Kayak8's avatar

@judi It very likely does happen more often with poor and uninsured, not necessarily due to any different treatment when they show up in the ER but more likely because they have not had the level of preventive care that insurance will allow. There are too many confounding variables to attribute poverty with the treatment given as being a single cause and effect relationship.

Shippy's avatar

I wish the medical industry was as regulated as say the Financial Industry. I too have suffered losses of family members due to negligence and misdiagnoses.

dabbler's avatar

It is is extremely poor consolation to sue a doctor or hospital or drug company after the fact of a love one’s demise.
Ideally procedures are in place that encourage or demand practice that avoids known hazards. Public agencies with the proper regulations and enforcement in place are known good tools for increasing the quality of patient care.

@wds2 “politics has that much to do with this” Politics has plenty to do with this.
State and federal programs to track medical mishaps rely on funding.
Regulations of medical practice to prevent and mitigate poor practice depend on public infrastructure to monitor and enforce the regulations.
Legislators vote on funding to the public agencies charged with this sort of responsibility.
Legislators are bought and sold by campaign contributions and perks from corporate interests including Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

See the problem?

@Shippy I agree with you wholeheartedly that medical practice benefits from proper standards and regulation.
But Finance is a lousy example of a well-regulated industry.
In the U.S. especially since the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the passing of the Commodities and Futures Modernization Act (late ‘90s) the fnancial industry has been sucking wealth out of the economy at unprecedented rates and inventing new ways to do it, while creating nothing of actual value. On top of that the SEC’s has had funding throttled so that it can investigate and prosecute only the most aggregious violations.
Similar trends in financial de-regulation have plagued the U.K. and other financial centers in the past few decades.
Before the ‘90’s, in the U.S. you could point to Finance as a well-regulated industry. But today, not so much.

wds2's avatar

@dabbler Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know politicians are in pharmeceutical companies’ pockets, but I don’t believe either of the major parties are worse than the other. As far as corruption or “corporate funding,” they are both equally bad.

Although, I must admit, I don’t know much about this particular issue, more the litigation behind it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Shippy I wish here in the states doctors would at minimum think about refunding money or waving their fee if they totally screwed up. Pretty much they have to be sued. If someone dies waving a fee isn’t enough, but when it is misdiagnosis or a botched procedure that needs to be done, sometimes they actually want money to do it a second time. I find that horrible. If I get my hair highlighted and the result is terrible, the hairdresser redoes it free of charge. Maybe if they admitted their mistakes more and took more resonsibility the public would not so readily sue, and issues would be reported and more data collected.

dabbler's avatar

@wds2 Quite so that politicians of all stripes have their hands in the big pockets of Big Pharma. It’s a bi-partisan sellout for sure. But it is clear that Big Pharma influence has a lot to do with how malfeasance in medical practice is handled in the U.S.
We could have boards of the best medical scientists available making rational, objective standards. Instead we have many of them hired to make whatever case they can for the expensive treatment, and teams of lawyers hired to dismiss malpractice suits as much as possible.

@JLeslie While I think refunds could be appropriate, I think refunds are nearly impossible in the current system because that will imply admission of guilt, malpractice, malfeasance and open the refunder to lawsuits.

Of course if we had a single-payer system you would not have paid for it in the first place and you’d have the government at your back to get providers to do the right thing.

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