They say you should learn from your mistakes, and they are right. That’s how growth and development happen. But it is hard, and usually impossible, to learn from your mistakes if you don’t know what they are. So when hospitals fail to report medical errors, or lump all of them together into the nebulous category of “adverse events,” without enough case-specific information to make the reporting useful, improvements in medical care fail to happen.
Yet that is exactly what is taking place in California right now, according to this investigative report from NBC News.
According to the Hippocratic Oath, a doctor must first do no harm. But the influence of health insurance companies on modern doctors raises the question of exactly who doctors are bent on not harming: their patients, or their corporate benefactors. This subject was the topic of a recent, disturbing op-ed piece in the NY Times, which is entitled “How Medical Care Is Being Corrupted.” The authors, both Harvard physicians, warn that:”Insurers, hospital networks and regulatory groups have put in place both rewards and punishments that can powerfully influence your doctor’s decisions”. And their warning is about doctors’ decisions that negatively impact patient care.
Moving to the courtroom setting, TortsProf Blog reports on a trend in medical malpractice trials in which informed consent is not included among the plaintiff’s claims. As Professor Chris Robinette points out, plaintiff’s lawyers are concerned that injecting the consent form into the trial when it is not an issue can prejudice a jury against their clients, if defense lawyers suggest that consent to the procedure equals consent to risks caused by negligence. To date, seven jurisdictions have adopted a ban on evidence of informed consent in medical malpractice trials that do not include informed consent claims, according to Professor Robinette. His home territory of Pennsylvania may become the eighth.
And Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, who found the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, has died at age 89.
Here is a brief roundup of recent news in the area of false advertising. Two stories concern medical care, and consumers of medical care ought to know about them. One delves into the subject of mayonnaise, and whether a certain upstart manufacturer is selling the “real” item.
First, from The Center for Public Integrity, comes the troubling news that nursing home care levels may be much lower than families think. The Center’s investigation found stark differences in reports of staffing levels between the Nursing Home Compare website, used by many consumers in choosing a facility, and levels determined by the Center based on financials submitted by the homes. “More than 80 percent of the facilities reported higher registered nurse staffing levels on the public website than those the Center calculated through its analysis of the cost reports. In more than 25 percent of nursing homes nationwide, the amount of staff listed on the public website was at least double the level in the cost reports.” It is no secret that understaffing, in nursing homes or any other type of medical facility, invites avoidable complications and errors. So, buyer beware. Look beyond the Nursing Home Compare website. Visit the homes under consideration. Speak to families of current residents. Check consumer-oriented websites, and the Better Business Bureau. This difficult decision has become more challenging for families, who now need to beware of false advertising.
A medical manufacturer has also been accused of false advertising. It seems Becton Dickinson and Co needed to gain an edge in advertising its safety syringes. The company claimed that its products were not only sharper, but wasted less medicine than those made by rival Retractable Technologies Inc. Retractable sued Becton, claiming that Becton had used false advertising to attempt to corner the safety-syringe market. Following a jury trial, Retractable won $340 million dollars in damages, and a federal court order that Becton notify its customers of its false claims.
Because I don’t want to leave you feeling completely depressed about false advertising, I bring you news that pits health benefits against accuracy in advertising. Hampton Creek, a maker of vegan mayonnaise, Just Mayo, has been sued by Unilever, maker of Hellman’s mayonnaise. At issue is the age-old question: What is mayonnaise really made of? FDA guidelines list egg yolk as a necessary ingredient, and even Hampton Creek acknowledges that there is no egg yolk in Just Mayo. So is Just Mayo guilty of false advertising? The company president says “no,” pointing out that his company never claimed it was selling mayonnaise. That’s why the product is called “mayo.” Hampton Creek’s owner has vowed to continue the fight against Big Mayo.
UPDATE: Unilever, poster corporation for Big Mayo, may have just pointed out that it has stretched the definition of “real” mayonnaise in the same manner it has accused smaller competitor, Hampton Creek, of doing.