When people think of medical malpractice, they often imagine a doctor making a grave mistake, such as a missed diagnosis or a botched surgery. But often the source of the problem is something much simpler-an infectious disease that the patient catches while in the hospital. In fact, every year an estimated 48,000 Americans die of these hospital infections. And all too often these diseases could have been prevented.
A recent survey shows that four organisms were responsible for a majority of hospital disease outbreaks, and the leading cause was norovirus, which was responsible for nearly a fifth of the outbreaks among the hospitals surveyed.
Norovirus causes what is often called a "stomach flu," or gastroenteritis. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The germ can be found in an infected patient's stool or vomit, and can thus be transmitted to others when hospitals don't take proper precautions to sterilize areas where infected patients have been.
The survey reported that Norovirus outbreaks caused, on average, more than 12 patients to fall ill to the disease with each outbreak. This particular bug is also responsible for the highest number of hospital unit closures.
The nationwide survey also revealed that only slightly more than half of the outbreaks had also been reported to an outside agency, like a state board of health. Fortunately, state medical agencies are increasingly aware of the dangers of these outbreaks, and today more than half of the country has laws requiring reporting of hospital-acquired infections. New Jersey law requires hospitals to submit data on infections associated with their facilities to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). The DHSS web site even offers a tool for researching hospital performance reports.
Increasingly, patients are becoming aware of the need to take an active role in their medical care, and that includes researching hospitals' records and outcomes. But these medical mistakes still happen at even well-regarded hospitals and care facilities, and when they do, the consequences can be costly and tragic.
If you or someone you know has been infected while in the hospital, talk to an attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice. He or she can help you preserve your legal rights and may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries.