How It Happens
The sheer complexity of the health-care system is the underlying cause of most medical mistakes, experts say. When you bring a child to a hospital or clinic, you never deal with just one doctor. Instead, medical care is administered by an ad hoc team that can include a primary-care physician, specialists, nurses, receptionists, pharmacists, and others. Every time information and instructions pass from one caregiver to the next, there is an opportunity for miscommunication and misinterpretation.
And there is no cohesive system for overseeing the entire process. "Most errors are sins of omission, not intentional wrongdoing on anyone's part," says James E. Fox, a malpractice attorney in Sherman Oaks, California. Sadly, medical procedures--from performing operations to providing recovery care-allow little room for error.
Consider what happened to Mareena Tomei, a 14-month-old from Traverse City, Michigan. After the child had surgery to correct a kidney condition she was born with, doctors ordered that she be hooked up to a monitor and supplied with oxygen through a tube in her nose. But when she was wheeled from the recovery ward to her room, the tube was disconnected from the oxygen supply, presumably to make transport easier. With Mareena settled in a crib, her mother, Brenda, asked a nurse if the tube should be reconnected.
According to Brenda, the nurse-apparently unaware of the doctors' instructions-said doing so was unnecessary. But she promised to stay in the room to keep an eye on the child while her parents got something to eat. The nurse did leave the room, however, and while she was gone, Mareena stopped breathing. Those few minutes without oxygen cost the child most of her brain function. Mareena lost her sight, never learned to walk or talk, and now at age 5 requires round-the-clock care.