Experience teaches how to avoid common medical malpractice mistakes

This Fall, I’ve enjoyed helping all four of our children in their Latin classes—they’re all taking it for the first time. I had a fantastic Latin teacher in high school who spread his passion to his students, like me. Over those three formative years, I learned a lot about Latin, Rome, English, politics, and life.

One of the Latin expressions that I learned in high school that’s stuck with me all these years is experientia docet, which means “experience teaches.” Boy, does it ever.

That’s one of the things that I enjoyed about being a hospital administrator. It’s still a driving factor in my long career as a medical malpractice lawyer. By studying the experiences of others, we can learn about how to prevent the same mistakes from occurring in the future.

In hospital settings, experienced teaches form a process called the root cause analysis. When there is an unusual sentinel or so-called never event, hospital leaders from multiple disciplines are required to get together and study what happened and what can be done to improve patient safety.

In the context of medical malpractice litigation, experience teaches us through depositions and testimony of patients and their physicians and other health care providers.

Today, I presented our client for deposition in a plastic/cosmetic surgery medical malpractice case. As is often the case, this particular surgeon’s office was a high-pressure sales shop. The client’s significant other had some procedures done by a plastic surgeon who works in Houston and The Woodlands.

The next thing you know, the surgeon’s office was calling our client to schedule an appointment that the client hadn’t solicited. Because the significant other had suggested it, the client went along with it and reluctantly attended an initial appointment.

On the first appointment, the plastic/cosmetic surgeon was a no-show. An employee of the doctor’s office with no medical or nursing training saw our client and recommended some procedures. As part of the high-pressure, now, now, now arrangement in this particular office, as well as many others, the employee requested and received an initial payment for these elective surgeries.

On the second appointment, once again the surgeon didn’t show up. This time a nurse saw our client, discuss scheduling, and demanded payment of the rest of the fees. She explained that no patient got to see the surgeon without paying in full for the procedures that the surgeon’s staff had recommended without him even seeing the patient. The patient paid in full.

Experientia docet. Experience teaches. That’s a big red flag!

On the third visit, the patient finally got to meet the surgeon. After discussing the procedures with the surgeon, our client became uncomfortable that there would be more scars involved than the staff had told him about. The client decided not to go for board, but the surgeon remarked that the substantial payments that had already been made were nonrefundable.

Experientia docet. Experience teaches. Another big red flag!

A few days before surgery, the non-nurse employee who had originally seen our client emailed a set of paperwork to be filled out. She had already signed and dated the blank document that said she had witnessed our client sign the paperwork. When the client called to ask questions about that and the incomprehensible medical language, the surgeon wasn’t available.

Experientia docet. Experience teaches. Another big red flag!

When facing any type of surgery, keep these red flags in mind. You’re not on a car lot to try to buy a new vehicle, you’re in a professional office and the physician and staff should conduct themselves accordingly. If you’re pressured to pay for everything upfront before even seeing the surgeon, that’s a good time to say “no” and walked out.

In this case, it also concerns me that the surgeon violated Texas Medical Board requirements concerning the informed consent process. This is something that we will certainly investigate as this case progresses. Informed consent is a non-indelible conversation between a patient and physician in which the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment and alternatives are fully discussed.

It’s not enough for the doctor to give a lecture that is incomprehensible to the patient. There must be true comprehension and communication.

It’s also certainly not enough to have a nurse or untrained administrative staff member email complicated paperwork with the expectation that it will be signed and returned by the patient without having an opportunity to ask the surgeon or physician questions.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor medical care in Texas, then contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.