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Ann Arbor Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Language barriers increase risk of failure to diagnose

Ann Arbor residents today are a more diverse population than perhaps any other point in our history. We may hear any number of languages besides English spoken on the streets, in shopping malls and schools, in restaurants and on public transportation. Unfortunately, one place where languages other than English are not spoken nearly enough -- or nearly well enough -- is our hospitals and clinics.

The problem exists all over the United States. In one case, a Spanish-speaking teen was feeling nauseous. His relatives tried to tell health care workers this, but were misunderstood due to a language barrier. Thinking they meant he was intoxicated, providers proceeded to diagnose and treat the patient for a drug overdose, when in fact he was suffering a brain aneurysm.

Singer's legendary career cut short by medical malpractice

There are many things that Ann Arbor residents worry about on a daily basis that rich, famous celebrities never do. However, in a sense, health care is a great equalizer -- celebrities' bodies are just as vulnerable as anyone else's, and they are just as helpless as the rest of us when they place themselves into the care of a hospital. And when celebrities suffer permanent disability from medical malpractice, they avail themselves of the legal system to seek compensation.

Take the story of Julie Andrews. The legendary soprano who starred in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins was renowned for her four-octave range. But back in the late nineties, Andrews learned that she had non-cancerous nodules growing in her throat. She checked herself into the hospital in order to have the nodules surgically removed.

A doctor's duty of care in a medical malpractice suit

Victims of doctor error or surgical error often hear rebuttals like "doctors are only human," that "everyone makes mistakes," and similar attempts to shift the blame onto the victims themselves. To some extent, of course, these statements are true. No one expects a doctor, nurse, surgeon or other provider to be a superhuman, flawless and immune to error.

There are, however, certain legal standards that govern the relationship between a physician and a patient. These have to do with what's known as the "duty of care" owed to a patient. Let's take a closer look at what this means, in order to provide our Ann Arbor readers with some general information (not intended as specific legal advice) on this important subject for anyone pursuing a medical malpractice claim.

Heart failure symptoms, awareness for Ann Arbor residents

We hope that our last post here on our Ann Arbor medical malpractice law blog got our readers thinking about how they might handle a situation in which they suspect that a physician has failed to diagnose a heart condition. In that story, a patient died during gallbladder surgery because of his providers' failure to diagnose heart failure. Let's look at some of the signs that should ordinarily serve as red flags to doctors that a patient may be suffering heart failure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

First, however, a definition. "Heart failure" is not the same thing as cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating. When we talk about heart failure, we're describing a heart that is unable to pump all the blood the body requires. It could be because either the heart can't pump strongly enough, or perhaps it can't fill up with enough blood -- or, in some cases, both may occur at once.

Failure to diagnose heart condition leads to patient's death

Heart problems are among the more serious health issues that Ann Arbor residents may face in their lifetimes. Because of the serious risks posed by heart conditions, physicians are trained to recognize signs in their patients that could be indicators of a heart attack or similar emergency related to the heart. When they fail to diagnose such a condition, they may be held liable in court for damages resulting from their negligence.

One such case is making its way through the court system in the southern part of the country. The patient, a man in his mid-fifties, had complained for days of muscle pain, stomach aches and cramps. While he was known to have Hepatitis C and a history of hypertension, his symptoms were initially treated as flu.

How can one recognize nursing home neglect or abuse? (Part 2)

Our last entry here on our Ann Arbor medical malpractice law blog started looking at some of the different forms of elder abuse that can occur in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Let's continue this week with some warning signs for which Ann Arbor residents should be on the lookout if they suspect nursing home neglect or abuse may be taking place.

On the one hand, signs of physical harm may be obvious. Bruises, burns and abrasions should always be questioned, but there are other physical signs as well. These include bedsores, lack of hygiene and unexplained weight loss. Any of these indicators might be red flags of neglect or abuse. In particular, unexplained marks around private areas could be a sign that sexual assault has occurred.

How can one recognize nursing home neglect or abuse? (Part 1)

When we talk about problems in society that are constantly evolving and growing in scope, sometimes the words we use to describe them become inadequate or even confusing. Here on our Ann Arbor medical malpractice law blog, we've been discussing nursing home neglect for the past few weeks, but let's take a step back and make sure that we're being clear for our readers asking: just what constitutes nursing home neglect or abuse?

Of course, in regard to some acts, there is no question. Physical abuse includes striking or pushing a nursing home resident, although it can also include using physical or chemical means to restrain a person depending on the circumstances. Sexual assault is also a clear violation. But emotional abuse -- humiliating or threatening an elder, inflicting mental anguish whether verbally or nonverbally -- also commonly falls within the realm of nursing home abuse.

A hard look at nursing home realities in Michigan

It's hard to read stories, like our last Ann Arbor medical malpractice law blog entry, about elderly nursing home residents falling prey to neglect and abuse. These senior citizens are uniquely vulnerable; they are often physically weak, perhaps in failing health and may suffer from cognitive difficulties as well. Yet it's important for our readers to be informed about the issue, in part because it's frighteningly common here in Michigan.

The number of Michiganders living in traditional nursing homes today is over 45,000. Of those, a study recently found that over 20 percent -- one out of every five residents -- suffers from nursing home neglect. And in just the last three years, Michigan facilities have been cited at nearly double the national average rate for serious violations involving harm or jeopardizing residents' safety.

Nursing home patient killed in altercation with staff member

While many of us here in Ann Arbor wish we could drop everything to take care of our aging parents and elder relatives when they need it, reality rarely works out that way. Today we need to enlist nursing homes to provide care and support. This makes cases of nursing home neglect and abuse all the more troubling.

A recent case from the East Coast got so far out of hand that a patient in his late seventies was killed by an aide at the facility. Reportedly, the patient wanted to get out of bed, and the aide objected. The aide, a woman in her early forties, eventually became physical with the elderly man.

Michigan surgeon surrenders license due to medical malpractice

It's reasonable, or so most Ann Arbor residents might think, to expect that a surgeon preparing to operate on a patient will have the appropriate licensure to do so. Perhaps even more so, patients undergoing surgery anticipate that the procedure will be performed correctly, or at least that any mistakes would be acknowledged and appropriately addressed. A recently revealed series of medical malpractice episodes right here in Michigan, however, threatens this confidence and leaves many wondering: what about the victims?

The surgeon in question has been practicing in our state since 2011. One particular patient went to him for surgery on his spine two years ago. After the surgery, the patient complained of tingling and even a "blood-boiling" sensation in his legs, for which he was prescribed ongoing painkillers. Eventually the patient went to another physician who discovered that the surgery had never even been performed.

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