When you step inside the doors of a hospital, you do so with the expectation that you’ll get qualified medical care during a health crisis. You wouldn’t be there unless you needed help, and enter with the belief that hospitals and everyone they employ are there to protect you. After all, they’re in business to make you feel better.
When doctors and nurses come in to ask you questions and perform tests to get to the bottom of your illness, your anxiety level starts to fall. You trust them with your life – literally. Never do you expect that a hospital is putting your health in jeopardy by allowing a doctor to commit medical malpractice. And never do doctors expect that honoring their oath is less important to a hospital than trying to cover up medical negligence.
Blowing the whistle on medical malpractice
Because they felt compelled to uphold their ethics to prevent patient harm, two doctors in Gig Harbor, Washington were fired in May 2013 after pursuing a complaint against a fellow physician. That doctor’s behavior signaled to other staff members that he was experiencing some type of impairment consisting of:
- Declining motor skills
- Entering incorrect exam rooms
- Being incapable of performing certain surgical procedures because of hand tremors
The doctor’s actions were interfering with his ability to provide safe patient care, which goes against the oath doctors are required to uphold. That oath includes not doing anything to harm the patient in any manner because of negligence, carelessness, or a reckless attitude.
Because physicians and staff had serious concerns that were not being taken seriously by upper management of the hospital, they felt the need to press the issue, finally falling on their swords when they were fired. The hospital terminated them “without cause,” but eventually admitted that it was related to their complaints about the impaired doctor.
The doctors blew the whistle on their colleague intending to protect patients, but won a wrongful termination lawsuit against the hospital system for nearly nine million dollars.
Duty to disclose negligent behavior of a medical professional
It is a matter of public policy to ensure the safety of the general public from coming to harm. As such, hospital administrators and department heads owe a duty of care to oversee patient care and investigate complaints of negligence in administering that care. Part of that responsibility includes regular review of patient files. This helps determine whether there were avoidable negative outcomes and that medical professionals are performing their jobs using the same skills possessed by other professionals in their field of practice.
Problems in a healthcare setting that signal medical malpractice may occur include:
- Physician impairment from drugs or alcohol abuse. In addition to the risks listed above, this can lead to making mistakes such as prescribing the wrong medication to treating the wrong patient for the wrong condition.
- Severe lack of sleep from extended work hours. This can be an effect of working in emergency medicine or being one of only a small handful of doctors at the facility who are qualified to handle certain conditions or surgeries.
- Patient overload, which can lead to missed or delayed diagnosis, delay in beginning treatment, failure to monitor a condition, or even discharging a patient who should have been admitted to the hospital.
The firing of medical professionals who make complaints about the negligent behavior of their coworkers is like firing a warning shot at other employees. It causes them to think twice before disclosing dangerous problems that can cause patient harm. The experienced Atlanta and Savannah medical malpractice attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP want victims to know that when they become injured due to the negligence of a doctor, there were likely signs ignored that could have prevented the harm.
We thoroughly investigate claims of medical negligence to determine just how far up the fault for your injuries runs. To schedule your free case evaluation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, we invite you to call our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, or reach out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
Read more about Jeffrey R. Harris here.