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‘Distracted Doctoring’ Allegedly Kills Two Elderly Patients

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Your Charleston medical malpractice attorneys at Howell and Christmas, LLC recently read about a case in which a doctor is alleged to have prescribed ten times the normal dose of morphine to two elderly patients (aged 78 and 86) while he surfed the internet. The alleged drug overdose killed both of the patients at a home for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Prosecutors are claiming that the drug was inappropriate for the patients’ individual circumstances; reportedly the elderly patients were suffering from a number of health problems, including painful ulcers. Further, analysis of the records at the facility revealed that before handling the prescriptions the physician had not looked at the patients’ records and was surfing the internet; using the practice computer for personal banking and emails, accessing news, and checking cricket results from India.

Prosecutors assert that the physician failed to carry out a clinical assessment of either of the two now deceased patients, as well as failed to adhere to guidelines for administering pain relief to elderly patients. For these alleged failures, the physician has been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence. The nursing staff and pharmacist, according to the prosecution, however, share the burden of responsibility in this pair of fatal medical errors. The nurses who administered the doses to the elderly patients did not question the accuracy of the prescription, and, equally, the pharmacist who filled the morphine prescription did not inquire as to the appropriateness of the prescription’s concentration.

In court, the patients’ family members spoke of their shock upon seeing their relatives after the alleged medical error, describing their loved ones in an obvious drug-induced state. The stepdaughter of the 86-year-old patient stated: “I was shocked at his appearance. I could see what looked like a little shrunken head with his mouth wide open and his eyes slammed shut. A nurse said he had been given some morphine the day before,” according to reports.

A recent New York Times article explains that hospitals and doctors’ offices, in an effort to reduce the frequency of medical errors, have invested heavily to put computers, smartphones, and other devices such as tablets into the hands of medical staff. The idea is that these devices will allow hospital staff and physicians instant access to patient data, drug and prescription information, and case studies. But like many cures, however, this technology-based “solution” comes with an unintended side effect: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical staff can be focused on an electronic device’s screen and not the patient, even at times of critical care.

This almost unfathomable medical trend has been aptly dubbed “distracted doctoring.” The New York Times article reports that instances of distracted doctoring occur at a downright surprising rate with examples including a neurosurgeon making personal calls during an operation, a nurse checking airfares during surgery, and a poll showing that half of technicians running bypass machines had admitted texting during a procedure. It’s not too hard believe that using electronic devices during a medical procedure could have a detrimental effect on the patient undergoing that particular procedure.

Similar to an example already provided, the New York Times articles details an account provided by a medical malpractice lawyer in which his client had suffered a serious brain injury and was left partly paralyzed after surgery. It was later discovered that the neurosurgeon was using a wireless headset to talk on his cellphone during the operation. According to phone records, the operating surgeon placed at least 10 personal calls during the procedure.

For the benefit of all us who rely on medical service professionals to keep us healthy, let’s hope this dangerous trend of distracted doctoring meets its end in the very near future. Patients at all kinds of medical care facilities expect and are entitled to be the main focus of their medical care providers, if at any point that expected standard of care is compromised by an electronic device and brings unnecessary risk to your medical procedure, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

Posted In: medical malpractice