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Understanding Medical Errors in Medical Malpractice: A Legal Perspective from Oklahoma

Medical malpractice often—if not, always—represents devastating events in the lives of individuals and families. It is more than a failure of healthcare—it is a breach of trust between hospitals and patients. This blog will explore common medical errors, patients’ rights to medical records, and the critical role discovery plays in advocating for victims.

The Reality of Medical Errors

Each year, preventable medical errors claim the lives of approximately 251,000 people in the U.S., -- the third leading cause of death nationwide. These errors often arise from systemic failures, highlighting the need for improved medical accountability and patient safety.

10 Common Medical Errors

Some common problems that occur when providing health care are:

  • Miscommunication among healthcare staff.
  • Medication errors like incorrect dosing or drug interactions.
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.
  • Inadequate training and oversight.
  • Failures in patient identification and consent.
  • Insufficient staffing.
  • Use of faulty medical equipment.
  • Healthcare-associated infections from poor sanitary practices.
  • Premature discharge of patients.
  • Lack of proper policies or documentation.

Among these errors, Jennifer De Angelis, partner at Brewster & De Angelis, emphasizes the importance of documentation integrity.

Legal Representation & E-Discovery in Medical Malpractice Cases

De Angelis’ success as a medical malpractice attorney stems from her longstanding commitment to her client’s rights and the discovery process.

“Our clients come to the first meeting,” DeAngelis explains, “and they are scared. Some are distraught. All are overwhelmed and appearing as though they are now living in an alien universe. After they have been told what they know of their story, which is often very little because they have no medical education, they all say two things -- First, how could this have happened? Second, they wish they could turn back time to the day before they went to the hospital and make different choices. I tell them this, I can't help with your second request, I can't undo these events, but I assure you of this, I will find out how and why your wife or child died. The only avenue my clients must get answers to their primary question is the Civil Justice System. Discovery.”

Under Oklahoma law (76 OK Stat § 19), patients have an unequivocal right to access their medical records. These records are crucial for understanding the medical decisions made and are vital in the context of legal investigations into medical malpractice. They provide a framework for both healthcare providers and legal experts to analyze and understand the sequence of care provided.

Practical Application of E-Discovery

The records produced on paper often do not accurately reflect what appears on the screen, making printed forms of EMRs less useful in legal settings. This difficulty is compounded by EMR systems' design, which does not easily allow for the creation of a "snapshot" showing the record as it appeared at a specific past time.

Important strategies when reviewing EMRs include:

  • Searching EMRs: Look for terms like "corrected," "edited," "revised," and "version."
  • Direct Interaction: View EMRs on hospital systems to interact directly with the digital records.
  • Audit Trails: Analyze access patterns to uncover frequently accessed or altered documents.
  • Metadata Analysis: Ensure that discovery requests encompass metadata to reveal a document’s history.

Finally, verify all relevant patient documentation has been included and accurately reflects the original records. If compliance is lacking, file Motions to Compel to ensure all pertinent data is disclosed. The importance of obtaining and reviewing records is only increased by the potential medical consequences.

Creating Change and Restoring Trust

Protecting patients and preventing future medical errors is a shared responsibility. Together, governmental, legal, and healthcare systems can drive lasting change and restore trust.

For information on how to pursue a medical malpractice claim, contact us today.

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