In Massachusetts, a jury recently found two anesthesiologists innocent of causing the death of their patient. In 2005, Stella Kieras, a 77 year old driver who crashed her car into a light pole, was brought to the Baystate Medical Center suffering multiple bone fractures. Attending anesthesiologist at the time, Suzette Damboise, and her fourth year anesthesia resident, Kamel Ghandour, provided the anesthesia during her orthopedic repairs. Soon after the end of the case, the patient suffered a cardiac arrest and was not able to be resuscitated.
The patient's family sued the anesthesiologists for medical malpractice, complaining that an antihypertensive the doctors gave her caused her blood pressure to drop too low leading to the death. However, an autopsy report showed multiple fat emboli in the patient's blood, not an uncommon complication from orthopedic fractures. After a seven day trial, the jury returned within an hour of deliberations and declared the doctors not guilty of malpractice. Congratulations to Drs. Damboise and Ghandour on their legal victory.
This must have been very traumatic for the both of them, especially Dr. Ghandour who was just starting out on his new career. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine pointed out that a vast majority of doctors will face legal action at least once in their careers. But statistics repeatedly prove that doctors are found innocent about 80% of the time. This is little comfort for the physician.
The case of Ms. Kieras started with an auto accident in 2005. It has taken over six years of litigation before the situation was finally resolved in the anesthesiologists' favor. While most lawyers will point to cases like this to show that doctors are overreacting to medical malpractice and try to deny implementation of any kind of legal reform, it is the doctors who have been put through six years of legal hell. Imagine having the fear of large monetary damages, loss of reputation, and general anxiety about your competence as a physician hanging over your head for years. The idea that your career hangs in the balance over the thought processes of twelve laypersons who may have little medical understanding of the case other than what the mercenary "expert witnesses" have testified is horrifying to most doctors. Is it any wonder doctors order far more tests and procedures than necessary to prevent to the fullest extent possible the chance of a malpractice suit? Screw the government's guidelines and studies for optimal medical practices that maximizes care and minimizes costs. When the lawyers come knocking at your door, the government will not be around to tell the lawyers to back off since you did everything by the book. They're too busy encouraging the lawyers by preventing any malpractice reform legislation from passing and allowing the way for more of their legal buddies to join in on the action.