Navy Settles Medical Malpractice Case

The 20-year-old was a good nurse. So when she was told to show up at Jacksonville Naval Hospital’s Mayport clinic in 2005, despite the fact that she had a cold and worsening headaches, she did so. But that decision turned deadly for a young pregnant woman.

An undiagnosed sinus infection became bacterial meningitis taking her life. Monday, December 28, 2009, the government finally settled with the family. Most of the $850,000 will go to her 4-year-old daughter who was delivered seven weeks early by C-section as he mother lay dying. The child will not go without, but she will go without her mother.

Our condolences to the family for their immense loss. It is a complete tragedy, especially considering that the failure-to-diagnose case is the third settled by the family’s attorney with this hospital.

Medical Malpractice
By failing to diagnose this young woman simply by taking her temperature, determining she had a bacterial infection and treating the infection with antibiotics, the hospital committed malpractice. She had shown up at the Mayport clinic with the respiratory infection and a two-to-three day history of headaches, but told to continue taking over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Even the young woman’s mother called the clinic herself to demand they give her daughter a prescription for antibiotics. Instead the daughter received a different OTC medication.

Malpractice occurs when a standard of care is violated and that clearly happened here. By the time the bacterial meningitis was diagnosed, it was too late. She died two days later and her organs were donated. Her mother says her daughter was her best friend.

Medical Malpractice Takes at Least 98,000 Lives a Year
As tragic as this story is, medical malpractice occurs far more often than we know. Approximately 98,000 people die every year from medical malpractice – in hospitals or under a doctor’s care from medication errors, either by the prescribing physician or the pharmacist, or a failure-to-diagnose and treat. When you add in hospital acquired infections, the death rate roughly doubles, according to a Hearst Newspaper investigation.

Healthgrades, the medical grading organization, reports that preventable medical error accounted for an average of 195,000 hospital deaths in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

Becoming Your Own Advocate
The old model of asking no questions of your family physician has changed. First of all, you probably don’t have a family physician, but an overworked and possibly underpaid practitioner who is trying to see as many patients as possible to maximize his income under managed care. You need to be educated about every level of your care, including your prescriptions, and not hesitate to ask questions of your doctor or pharmacist. Double check that you understand what each prescription is for and that the dosage is written correctly. And double check with the pharmacy that it has followed the doctor’s orders.

If you are not happy about your care, a second opinion should always be welcomed by your doctor. If not, change practitioners. It’s not the way it used to be and we as patients have to advocate for ourselves, sometimes to save our own lives.

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