While medical malpractice is always shocking, failing to meet a patient’s basic needs, such as feeding, sedation, and pain relief, is incomprehensible. Medical malpractice is also particularly troubling when in occurs in the intensive care unit (or ICU), where patients are at their most vulnerable and are often unable to assert themselves. In a continuing medical education article released by the journal Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Jean-Louis Vincent proposes that all treating professionals – both doctors, nurses, and other supporting staff – apply a simple mnemonic designed to avoid some of the most fundamental of these medical errors.
The “Fast Hug” mnemonic encompasses seven basic components of care that should be considered for every intensive care patient at least once a day: Feeding, Analgesia (pain management), Sedation, Thromboembolic prophylaxis, Head-of-bed elevation, stress Ulcer prevention, and Glucose control. Although all of these elements may not require action as to particular patients at particular times, Dr. Vincent suggests that considering each of these elements as to all treated patients will minimize mistakes, reduce complications, and improve positive outcomes and quality of life for ICU patients.
The medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell commend these efforts to improve basic patient care in ICUs. What we find disturbing, however, is that such an effort, through the means of continuing medical education, is required. While some elements of the Fast Hug mnemonic, such as thromboembolic prophylaxis and glucose control, are more involved, medically complex, and variable based on the specifics of a patient’s condition, others are extremely basic. It is hard to believe that physicians and other medical professionals working in the ICU must be reminded that patients must be fed, and given pain killers and sedatives.
The author, however, finds nothing at all shocking in his suggestion that physicians are not attending to these basic needs. Indeed, the author matter-of-factly asks: “How often do we realize that a patient has not been fed for 2 or 3 days . . .” referring to this as an “oversight.” The failure to feed an ICU patient, who often cannot tell his caregivers that he is hungry, for multiple days is not an “oversight,” it is unpardonable. And, as the authors themselves note, ICU patients desperately need nutrition to deal with the conditions that placed them there. This is why ICUs who ensure that the Fast Hug mnemonic is implemented see better outcomes for their patients.
It is easy to understand how this situation came about. When a medical error is catastrophic or obvious – when a foreign object is left in a hospital patient or the wrong limb is amputated – it is clear to all that medical malpractice has occurred and that the patient’s suffering is a direct result of the malpractice. When an ICU patient dies, however, it may not be immediately obvious to her family that her death was related to the hospital’s failure to adequately feed her, or provide her with adequate painkillers, sedation, or glucose control.
Unless doctors and hospitals are held accountable for these errors, all the education in the world will not create meaningful change. Although the medical error may not be as obvious, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help the families of victims of this type of malpractice to recover, and to force hospitals and physicians to take the basic needs of their patients seriously. If you have lost a loved one and believe that substandard ICU care may be to blame, we can help you determine what really happened, and whether you have legal claims.
For a free consultation with a top-rated Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.