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Phoenix Personal Injury Law Blog

Questions can help to avoid prescription errors

Each year, many Arizona residents are hurt by prescription drug errors, and they are not alone. More than 7,000 people across the U.S. die each year due to prescription drug errors in hospitals alone, and more injuries occur at home.

According to the Mayo Clinic, around 70 percent of Americans regularly take at least one prescription medication in a given year. It is important to ask questions when prescribed a new medication to avoid potentially deadly consequences and side effects.

Accident rates among older drivers

Arizona is one of the country's most popular retirement destinations, and elderly drivers are a familiar sight on the state's roads. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the chances of being involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident begin to increase sharply after a driver attains the age of 70, and the number of senior citizens behind the wheel increased by 34 percent between 1999 and 2012.

While older drivers may be more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents on a per-mile traveled basis, the data indicates that this is due to existing health conditions or general frailty rather than poor driving skills. According to the CDC, older drivers often behave far more responsibly behind the wheel, but injuries that younger drivers would be expected to survive often prove fatal to those in their golden years. However, declining eyesight and reduced cognitive abilities are sometimes cited as the reason for accidents involving older drivers.

Toxic residue left behind when using contrast agent during MRIs

As Arizona residents may know, magnetic resonance imaging is commonly used as a diagnostic tool to identify disease and injuries. Gadolinium is frequently used as an agent to enhance the image. However, new research on the use of gadolinium on patients with kidney disease says it may lead to serious consequences.

Gadolinium has been a commonly-used diagnostic agent for over 25 years when used with MRIs. However, two studies conducted in Europe showed that gadolinium, instead of being excreted as previously thought, might be related to incidences of a serious kidney syndrome with a high morbidity potential. As a result, the FDA requested a labeling change and added a warning in 2006. In 2010, labels were required to reflect the potential danger involved with the use of gadolinium in patients with kidney disease. In 2013, another study showed that the toxic gadolinium-based substances might remain in the brain and the body of the patient following an MRI.

Small-impact traumatic brain injury

Arizona parents, athletes and workers should be aware that despite the prevalence of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, reporting in the news, not every brain injury results from a major injury. Annually, about 1.7 million people are diagnosed with brain injury, and roughly 80 percent of these diagnoses are characterized as mild cases presenting as headaches and dizziness but not involving full-blown concussions. Due to the sensitivity of the brain, however, new research indicates that standards of "trauma" may need to be reduced significantly.

Brain injury is not caused by impact to the head or skull directly. Rather, the impact causes the brain to move within the skull and rebound off the inside. Researchers have determined that the brain moves at an oscillation rate of about 5 hertz, or cycles per second, when a person turns their head, but they believe that brain injury may occur at an oscillation rate of as little as 15 hertz.

How patients can protect themselves while in the hospital

Hospitals in Arizona and across the country have high standards for patient safety as public reporting and financial incentives for quality patient care help hospitals offer the best care to patients. However, there could be as many as 400,000 premature deaths annually because of mistakes at hospitals that could have been avoided. While hospitals do take many steps to avoid errors, patients can focus on their own safety to help ensure that everything goes correctly while one stays in a hospital.

One might encounter many hospital employees over the course of a hospital stay, and it could be important to know which person is in charge and coordinating one's care. This gives a patient a contact person when something is wrong or when questions arise, and a friend or relative could be able to talk to a hospitalist or primary doctor when a patient is unable. Someone who accompanies a patient can advocate for a patient's safety and wishes when a patient cannot participate for physical or mental reasons.

NTSB: Collision prevention technology should be standard

Arizona drivers may recall a 2012 report in which the National Transportation Safety Board called for the government to mandate that automakers implement collision-avoidance systems in new cars and trucks as a way of significantly mitigating the severity of injuries resulting primarily from rear-end collisions. In the years since, the federal agency has adamantly continued to press this stance, and it formally renewed its call for widespread implementation of these potentially life-saving systems June 8 in a 60-page report.

Collision-avoidance technology includes warning devices to prevent lane departures and forward collisions, electronic stability control and autonomous braking and steering systems. Citing rear-end collision statistics that show that these accidents injure around 500,000 individuals annually and kill approximately 1,700, the chairman of the agency condemned 'inaction" by automakers spurred by concerns about consumers picking up the costs of such technologies. The NTSB's report also credited a dearth of incentives and public awareness for automakers' hesitation to embrace such measures across the board.

Poor communication the cause of surgical errors

Arizona patients may have justifiable concerns about medical errors occurring during surgeries. Although mistakes like operating on the wrong side of the body remain rare, a recently-published study found that insufficient communication among health care workers contributed to avoidable errors called "never events" by the medical community.

Examples of poor communication included someone ignoring a concern expressed by another team member or failing to speak up. According to the study, these rare errors when the wrong site of the body was operated on happened in one out of 100,000 surgeries across the country. Included in wrong-site surgeries were errors that involved procedures being done on the wrong person. A mistake such as leaving a surgical sponge inside the body happened in one out of 10,000 surgeries. The researchers also tried to determine how often fires occurred during surgeries, but insufficient data prevented them from putting a figure on that type of incident.

Never events caused by human behaviors

Arizona patients may know there are certain types of surgical errors that are seemingly avoidable but that unfortunately occur. These errors are referred to as "never events", because they are incidents that should not happen. In order to determine why these mistakes do occur, researchers with the Mayo Clinic identified 69 events that occurred over a five-year period to patients at its facility in order to determine why they happened.

Of the identified never events, 24 were from the wrong procedure being performed, 22 occurred when the wrong side or wrong site was operated on, 18 occurred when a foreign object was left inside the patient and five occurred when the wrong implant was put inside a patient. Approximately two-thirds of these incidents occurred during procedures that were relatively minor.

Research on the genetic causes of cerebral palsy

Arizona parents may be interested in a recent study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology" that researched the causes of cerebral palsy. According to the study, up to 45 percent of cerebral palsy cases are caused by genetics. The review was based on earlier findings by the research group which determined that 14 percent of cerebral palsy cases are likely caused by genetic mutation. As gene sequencing techniques continue to evolve, that percentage is expected to grow.

The leader of the research group that conducted the review explained that brain damage at birth through a lack of oxygen was wrongly believed to be the cause of cerebral palsy for years. He also explained that there is no good evidence for this belief as cesarean deliveries have risen in Australia with no overall change in cerebral palsy rates. It is also estimated that $300 million in cerebral palsy claim settlements are paid each year in Australia.

The increasing use of electronic health records

In Arizona and around the country, the use of electronic health records has become increasingly popular with doctors and other health care practitioners. They have also had an effect in the courtroom as well, as EHRs are often introduced to demonstrate negligence in medical malpractice lawsuits.

In the view of many judges, electronic health records are expected to be complete, accurate and highly accessible, while paper records are expected to have a degree of human error. These electronic health records also hold a greater amount of data than their paper counterparts. This can be an advantage to a plaintiff, as the EHR may contain a small but important detail that was buried in a volume of other information and thus missed by the practitioner who has been named as a defendant.

*Certified Specialist in Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation by the State Bar of Arizona, Board of Legal Specialization