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Do You See What I See?

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Do You See What I See?

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baby strollerFrom behind, the group of people walking in front of me through Newark Airport last week looked like a family. There was an older woman, a young couple, and a baby being pushed in the stroller. I filled in: grandmother, husband and wife and child. Then I took a closer look. The first detail I noticed was the older woman. She was in her early 50s. Her hair was cut in a punk style. The top half was dyed a deep purple. The next layer has dyed peacock blue. The bottom layer was a natural brown. She wore a black and white horizontal striped jacket over a white billowy dress. She had on black and white flower pattern leggings. Around her upper right arm was a wide tattoo.

The “husband” was Caucasian. The woman pushing the baby was Asian. The child looked to be full blooded Asian. After studying this unusual group, I realized how quickly I made assumptions. I assumed without thinking that they were a family. (And maybe they were – but maybe they weren’t.) Then I filled in other ideas, and speculated about their relationship, but all I was left with was questions.

How quickly do we jump to conclusions? In the medical-legal arena, how often do we reach unfounded conclusions about the defendant? The plaintiff? The public may believe people who sue for medical malpractice are primarily interested in money. Read Sorrel King’s book, Josie’s Story: A Mother’s Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe, about the medical error that cost her 18-month-old daughter her life. In the book, Sorrel wrote that her attorney brought legal documents from Johns Hopkins, where the error occurred. “There it was: the settlement offer. It was a concept that was difficult to comprehend – money for the death of our daughter. The concept of us accepting it was almost as appalling as them offering it. We didn’t want their money and felt that by accepting it we would be letting them off the hook. We didn’t want it to be so easy for them.”

When their attorney asked them what they did want, Sorrel said, “I wanted them to remember Josie, to learn something from her and to never let this happen again. I want every hospital in the country to know her name and why she died. I want them all to learn something”’, I said angrily. Her attorney replied, “‘Then do that. Do that with the settlement money. If you leave this money, it will just get sucked up in a black hole. Take the money and do something good. Do something for Josie. You can make this more than a sad story for the media to cover. You can create something much more.” The King family took their settlement check and funded patient safety efforts in the hospital in which their daughter died, and has been instrumental in improving safety in other hospitals throughout the world.

Look at your conclusions. Are they founded on information or insufficient data? How often do we go through a situation assuming we understand it, only to realize a fact that changes all of our conclusions? I recently worked on a large case involving a girl who was in a motor vehicle accident. Her attending physician documented she was intoxicated at the time she came into the emergency department. I got three-quarters of the way through 10 three binders before I saw a letter from her attending physician admitting he was given misinformation and the girl had a zero blood alcohol level.

Question your assumptions. Get more data. Ask questions.

Med League is a legal nurse consulting firm that assists attorneys handling cases involving medical negligence, personal injury and other litigation with medical issues at stake.  Call us for assistance.

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