Medical Malpractice Reform
I prepare a file of information to send to a plastic surgeon. I print out photos of my face taken three months before the surgeries that destroyed it. I print out a page of photos taken over the past two years. Finally, I print a page of photos taken recently. It takes more courage than I have to look at these photos. The first page shows a woman with shining eyes who appears no more than forty, though I was fifty-five. The second page depicts a woman with hollow eyes and cheeks, a deformed nose, jowls, malar bags—a face etched with pain. Some of these photos were taken just six months after the pre-surgery photos. The third page shows the same ruined face, but focuses on the drooping right eye and caved-in cheekbone.
The photos tell just part of the story. A large pile of bone was power-sawed out of my face from behind my cheekbones in an obsolete surgery called a Caldwell-Luc: http://www.entkent.com/FESS.html. The bone that forms the structure around the eye and the cheekbone is caving in, due to a loss of infrastructure, especially on the right. These bones form the upper part of the jaw. Increasingly, my upper jaws do not fit my lower jaws. The pain is growing daily. As well, I suffer Empty Nose Syndrome—nasal dryness, discomfort and shortness of breath, due to excessive removal of turbinate tissue.
My life has veered into a twilight zone—a disintegrating face and a future of ever-increasing pain.
I look at page one and page two of the photos, separated by a mere six months, and I wonder all over again how this could have happened. I saw an ENT for tinnitus—ear ringing. He found sinus polyps, incidentally, on a scan.
Six days later, he destroyed my face and nose with three unnecessary surgeries.
I remember standing in a grocery line a few months after the surgeries, gasping for breath, my swollen face twisted in agony. “What happened to you, honey?” the cashier asked. I told her. Her eyes popped. “You can’t sue him?” she asked in disbelief. “But…but that means that they can do anything and there’s nothing to stop them!”
Exactly. That’s exactly what it means. That’s why we once had a legal system designed to protect patients. Due to tort reform laws, we no longer have that: http://www.mcandl.com/ohio.html . Not only did lawsuits place a check on physicians, they served as a form of redress to the injured patient.
Compensation could have gone a long way toward alleviating my suffering. I have compiled a list of the best plastic surgeons across the country, but I can’t afford to see them. Most local physicians want nothing to do with my case because professional loyalty trumps concern for patients. Some procedures that could counteract the damage are considered cosmetic and are not covered by insurance. More than two years after this life-destroying event, I have had no treatment for the damage to my face. There is virtually no mainstream treatment for Empty Nose Syndrome and I have spent ten thousand dollars on natural remedies. I have not been able to work. My finances are destroyed. I do not know how I will continue to pay for the natural medicines that I use to care for my nose. I also don’t know how I will manage the pain in my jaws and teeth which increases daily. I would like to try acupuncture, massage, and other natural pain management therapies, but I have no resources.
Is this what should happen to a patient who sees an ENT for ear ringing?
There is a lively conversation afoot about medical malpractice reform. Dr. Kevin Pho, KevinMD.com, argues that “injured patients deserve medical malpractice reform.” http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2009/11/oped-injured-patients-deserve-medical-malpractice-reform.html
Dr. Pho feels that an adversarial approach to patient compensation serves no one. “There are many who advocate caps on malpractice awards as a solution, but this does little to fairly compensate patients more expediently, nor will it make the necessary improvements to patient safety. In Texas, for instance, a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages has made it more difficult for injured patients to seek compensation because lawyers find most claims too unprofitable to pursue.” Ohio shares this low cap on non-economic damages.
Dr. Pho suggests that, “Perhaps we should look abroad for other ideas.”
“The United States is one of the few countries in the world that uses a jury to decide instances of medical malpractice. Liability cases in the United Kingdom, Germany, and most of Canada use specially trained judges instead, who can not only decide cases more quickly, but also in a manner more reliable and consistent than a jury. These “health courts” will speed up the time it takes for injured patients to receive compensation. Additionally, according to Philip Howard, the chairman of the legal reform coalition Common Good, by implementing health courts, information about each [malpractice] incident, would be compiled and disseminated so that doctors and hospitals could learn from their errors.”
One has to wonder how fairly injured patients are compensated by health courts. But anything would be an improvement over the current system in which many victims of medical malpractice receive no compensation at all. Dr. Pho says, “President Obama has acknowledged that changes in the medical malpractice system must be considered with other health reforms, and recently ordered that pilot projects to improve the way we compensate injured patients be implemented.”