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How Doctors Harm Us & Get Away With ItWayne Pierce for Salem-News.com
I recommend that all patients request copies of their patient files and that they read them carefully.
(EUGENE, Ore.) - I once read that more people in the US die each year due to doctor mistakes than in automobile accidents. More recently I talked with a medical malpractice attorney who told me that doctor mistakes were the leading cause of death in the United States. Of those who do not die due to these mistakes, many are maimed and go on to lead miserable lives. How is it possible that those in whom we place our faith to cure our illnesses and save our lives can harm us in this manner? Given the magnitude of the problems that result from these mistakes, how do doctors get away with it?
The propaganda initiated by the medical community would have us believe that doctors can barely survive due to high medical malpractice insurance. However, only the most severe injuries caused by doctor mistakes are ever taken to court. I have talked with a number of malpractice attorneys and the story is always the same. Doctors, who work primarily in business groups, and their insurance companies have unlimited attorney funds to defend the doctor in question. More importantly, I was amazed to learn that in most malpractice cases, the juries tend to side with the doctor. I am sure we can attribute this to our lifelong admiration for doctors, who we learn from an early age to depend upon when ill or dying. It is difficult for most people accept the fact that doctors can actually cause us harm.
With the help of their office managers and attorneys, doctors have erected protective walls between themselves and their patients. When we are ill and seeking help from our doctor, we pay little attention to the forms we must fill out or the documents with the fine print that we are asked to sign—most the time without reading. All this documentation means nothing to us—except in an unlikely dispute with our doctor. Though patients are not always capable of clearly describing their symptoms, what they write or check on these forms becomes part of their medical history. I noticed in my latest medical records that the doctor lists all the symptoms that I supposedly “deny.” Patient denies numbness, patient denies urgency, patient denies weakness, etc….” These claims by the doctor are all false and he did not discuss any of these symptoms with me. His information came purely from the forms that I filled out. When asked on the form to state what symptoms I was seeking help for, I indicated back pain. Because I did not check off other symptoms on the list, for legal purposes, the doctor states that I denied having other problems. If we later complain that the doctor did not address our problems, he can pull out the record that indicated that we denied having such problems.
Doctors like to complain about how they suffer due to the medical malpractice suits brought against them. However, despite how serious injuries caused by doctors, attorneys are reluctant to pursue any but the most severe cases. I was surprised to learn that the reason for this is that juries almost always side with the doctor. I assume the reason for this is that our positive image of doctors has been imbedded in our minds from the time we are kids. We grow up admiring and believing in the healing powers of doctors and indeed, how they can save our lives. Our later images come from brief encounters with them while we are ill and need their help. Our health and very lives are in their hands and it is very difficult to accept the reality that they are human and fallible just like us.
With most businesses that provide products or services, a process is provided whereby customers have recourse and can address problems. Typical companies provide refunds or replacement products. When the problem is service related, the work is usually redone or a refund is provided. Doctors are not subjected to customer complaints. Though each business group of doctors has a lead doctor and a office manager, there is no process by which patients can file complaints or resolve issues with their doctors. Unfortunately, doctors, with guidance from their attorneys and office managers have prepared legal defenses against any patient who might not be satisfied with their service.
Because of my numerous spinal injuries and surgeries, I was recently referred to a medical clinic here in Eugene where doctors specialize in rehabilitation. When the doctor came into the exam room he seemed preoccupied and not prepared to discuss my problems or try to provide help. After ten minutes of looking at my MRIs and studying past surgeries, he told me that he could not help me and walked out of the room. Because of his strange behavior, I requested copies of my patient file so I could see his notes about our brief meeting. When saw what he had written, I was shocked. When visiting neurologists or neurosurgeons, they usually put you through a series of range of motion and strength tests. Though this doctor did not touched me or perform any such testing, he wrote in my patient file that these tests were all normal. He also included several blatant lies, which I will not discuss here. For the ten minutes he was with me, he billed Medicare nearly $300.
I was so disturbed by this doctor’s incompetence and falsehoods that I wrote a letter to the head doctor and office manager. I listed each false claim the doctor had made and requested that he correct my record and that they refund any Medicare payment. I stopped in and talked with the office manager about my letter. He was empathetic and told me they were working on reversing the charges with Medicare. I subsequently received a letter from the head doctor who was obviously prepared by their attorneys to defend her doctor. She advised me that the doctor stood by his notes and would not revise them and that they were billing Medicare for service he had provided. Because this doctor did not injure me, no attorney would try to sue him for malpractice. However, even if he did, I am sure the doctor would lie and claim that he did perform the neurological testing. Other falsehoods would be attributed to his opinion, etc. The main character in these situations is the patient. It is he or his insurance that pays for his doctor’s services. However, even when a doctor is incompetent and provides lousy or fraudulent services, the patient is ignored, while a team of business and legal experts step up to defend him.
What recourse do patients have when mistreated by doctors, or when they observe fraudulent claims against insurance companies or government programs, such a Medicare? First of all, the federal government requires that patients have access to their records, to which they can add their own comments regarding a doctor’s performance or notes. They can also fill out privacy forms that prevent the doctor from sharing their files with other doctors. Patients can file complaints against their doctor with their state’s health department. Medicare also encourages patients to report fraudulent claims by doctors. Complaints can also be filed with the American Medical. However, the cards are always stacked against the patient.
While living in Wenatchee, WA many years ago, I was repeatedly misdiagnosed by doctors at the city’s one large medical clinic. After moving to Eugene where doctors properly diagnosed and treated what turned out to be a ruptured disk in my neck and simple partial seizures, I first filed a complaint with the AMA (American Medical Association). I also filed a complaint against the Wenatchee doctors with Washington State’s Health Department. I received a cordial letter from AMA’s president in which she expressed her regrets and advising me that my complaint was being investigated. She said that I would be advised their findings. A short time later she was replaced and I never heard from the AMA again. Likewise, I received a letter from Washington State’s Health Department advising me that they were investigating my complaints against the Wenatchee doctors. Months later I receive a letter from Washington State advising me that they were unable to discover any wrongdoing on the part of the doctors. However, the doctors all agreed that, “…he was a difficult patient to work with.” The man who investigated my complaint was a doctor and most of us know that doctors stick together.
Having only recently filed a claim with Medicare regarding my recent doctor experience, I am yet to learn the effectiveness of this process. However, given my experience, I assume that the doctor, the clinic’s management, and their attorneys are already preparing their defense, which will include falsehoods. I expect them to denigrate my character in order to paint me as unreliable witness to their lies and fraudulent Medicare claims.
I once had a doctor who always gave his patients a copy of his notes prior to their leaving his office. Though I did not have occasion to do so, I assumed he would agree to address issues discovered by his patients. Most doctors do not do this and assume that their notes are private and will not be seen by their patients. While dealing with numerous doctors over the years, I have found it essential to review each doctor’s notes. Without going into detail, I can tell you that I have found some of their comments totally absurd and of no value except perhaps to protect the doctor.
I recommend that all patients request copies of their patient files and that they read them carefully. I will not take any medication prior to some research on websites such as: http://www.worstpills.org/
In today’s world, the doctor-businessman is often more focused upon profits than the health of his patients. Based upon every study I have read, healthcare in the US is rated worse than most other modern countries, along with our education system. I recommend that everyone take responsibility for their own healthcare and manage their interaction with doctors. Study and learn about various illnesses and their symptoms. The Internet contains a wealth of information about any health issue that might be of interest. Of great benefit are the experiences of other patients. Though we love to place our faith in our doctors, we sometimes do this with great risk.
Most unbelievable throughout the medical field is the assumption that all doctors are qualified to judge and comment upon our mental health. Though most Medical Doctors have minimal study or training in diagnosing and treating mental disorders, they are quick to label our kids and treat them the only way they know how, by subduing them with dangerous drugs.
Psychiatrists, who have special training after becoming MDs, once relied primarily on psychoanalysis or some form of “talk therapy” to treat their patients. Psychiatric drugs were used sparingly. Except for the small percentage of psychiatrists that continue to practice psychoanalysis, medication is widely utilized in the treatment of mental illness. Of course, the definition of mental illness has expanded in order to accommodate the doctors and drug companies. Much of the blame for the shift from talk therapy to careless use of psychiatric drugs can be attributed to the health insurance companies and Medicare who refuse to pay for what they see as nebulous services such as psychoanalysis, which can require weekly visits between analyst and patient for two or three years. A great source of information about the transformation of the world of psychiatric is Dr. Peter Breggin’s book, “Toxic Psychiatry.”
When it comes to our health and interaction with our healthcare providers, it is vitally important to believe in our selves. We should listen to doctors carefully, while always ready to question their opinions and recommendations. Us patients live with our symptoms full-time, while our doctors have but a few minutes to listen to us, diagnose the source of our problems, and come up with a treatment plan. Because a doctor is unable to diagnose our problem in the few minutes he is allowed to spend with us, does not mean a problem does not exist. Guesswork on the doctor’s part is all too frequent. We cannot go too far wrong by believing in ourselves.
Wayne was born in a small farm town in California's San Joaquin Valley. At age ten, he moved with his family to San Jose, California, which at the time had a population of 50,000 and was surrounded by orchards--mostly prunes. At age twenty, he joined IBM, one of the first electronic plants that would evolve into what we know today as Silicon Valley. Most of his college education was acquired through part-time classes while sometimes working ten hours a day. Wayne started on the bottom in the magnetic disk manufacturing facility, which produced the large disks for the earlier IBM computer systems. These magnetically coated disks would evolve into what we know today as hard drives. Wayne's last assignment with IBM was setting up their first inkjet printer lab that became what we know today as the Lexmark printer business. After his retirement from IBM, he wrote human interest stories for a small town newspaper.
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