Every doctor in the State of Massachusetts owes a duty to their patient to treat them in a professionally responsible manner within a range of medically accepted techniques. This is sometimes referred to as the “standard of care.” When a medical provider acts outside of the standard of care and that act results in injury to a patient, a patient can bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. Traditionally lawsuits have been the manner by which patients seek compensation for their injuries. In Massachusetts, however, changes in the medical malpractice field have led to new techniques to allow patients to seek both compensation and treatment.
An unidentified patient was scheduled to have gallbladder surgery in a Massachusetts hospital in 2013. In preparation for this surgery, her doctors ordered that a CT scan be done prior to operating. After reviewing the CT scan her physician noticed a suspicious looking object on her pelvis. The doctor feared that this spot may be an indication of ovarian cancer. As any doctor would, they then ordered that the patient have a pelvic ultrasound to ensure that this was benign and that it was appropriate to proceed with the scheduled surgery. The problem was that this order for an ultrasound “fell through the cracks.” The ultrasound was never done and a few short months later the woman was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. This exact scenario is the type that would have traditionally led to a medical malpractice lawsuit, however, no lawsuit ever came to fruition in this case.
The New Massachusetts Approach
Recently a new law regarding medical malpractice in Massachusetts went into effect. The law provides that attorneys must give medical providers a minimum six month notice if a lawsuit directed at the physician appears on the horizon. The intent of this law is to benefit both patients and their doctors. In this case, the attorney did give the hospital notice and they had 150 days to respond to this news. The hospital’s physicians agreed that their actions were outside of the standard of care. Shortly after, a meeting took place between the doctor, the attorneys, and the woman in question. The meeting was a discussion of both why the mistake occurred and how best to prevent it from happening again. The woman accepted a settlement from the hospital and her doctor personally apologized.
In this scenario the entire negotiation process lasted about one year. In comparison to a lengthy legal battle, this is the equivalent of the blink of an eye. This can be a mutually beneficial process in the case that the hospital does not dispute that a medically unsound mistake was made. The benefits are not simply in relation to efficiency, according to Jeffrey Catalano, the woman’s attorney, who stated that “My client felt really good about it. She felt like she was heard.” Speaking face to face with your physician may actually help the healing process. Doctors are held directly accountable to their patients as opposed to speaking to them only through the mouth of a hospital’s attorney.
While these laws are certainly beneficial in some situations, the reality remains that many physicians will not be willing to accept responsibility for their mistakes. If you have been the victim of a negligent healthcare provider, contact Peter Ventura for a free personal consultation at (508) 755-7535.