DOCTORS ARE NOT PERFECT
By: Zukiswa Ndaba
Mistakes are made every day and while some of them can be insignificant, others can completely change lives. They can cause harm or death to a patient.
Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the world.
“Medical Negligence has become a serious problem in South Africa. This is due to the decline in the level of medical healthcare standards, especially in state hospitals and schools. As a result medical negligence cases are on the increase,” said Ronald Bobroff, President of the Law Society and a guest lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School.
In the majority of cases, the medical malpractice or negligence involved a medical error, possibly in diagnosis, medication dosage, health management, treatment or aftercare.
“Doctors or other health care professionals are not liable for all the harm a patient might suffer. They are only legally responsible for harm or injuries that resulted from their deviating from the quality of care that a competent doctor would normally provide in similar situations, and which resulted in harm or injury for the patient,” said Bobroff.
John Hopkins Hospital reported that diagnosis errors cause up to 160,000 deaths annually in SA. Making diagnostic errors are one of the most dangerous and expensive mistakes made by South African doctors, estimated to cause between 80,000 and 160,000 deaths every year.
The research examined data from over 350,000 malpractice claims in South Africa over the last 25 years. It is reported that the majority of claims were related to diagnostic errors and that those errors frequently caused severe patient harm and led to the biggest total payouts by the state.
The Marian Hill Hospital allegedly made the horrifying mistake of operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain in three different cases in one year.
The first incident was the result of a third-year resident failing to mark which side of the brain was to be operated on. The doctor and nurse in this operation claimed they were not trained in how to use a checklist.
In the second incident, a different doctor with over 20 years’ experience never filled out which side of an 86 year old man’s brain had a blood clot, assuring the nurse that he remembered. The patient in this case died a few weeks later.
In the third case, the chief resident neurosurgeon and a nurse both clarified which side of the brain was to be operated on beforehand, and then proceeded to operate on the other side. All three cases involved different doctors, but whether it’s better to be in a hospital where one doctor repeats a mistake multiple times, or several doctors make the same mistake is debatable.
“We have learnt to be very careful with every critical procedure, because over the years we lost our patients’ trust,” said Nomusa Ndovela, a doctor at Marian Hill Hospital.