Birmingham Again

A Birmingham Alabama jury awarded the family of Laboyish Catlin $3 million last Friday (February 11, 2011.)  Mr. Catlin, then 37, bled to death in January 2006 a few days after ulcer surgery at Baptist Princeton Hospital.   Essentially, the jury believed the testimony that Mr. Catlin had a very low blood count when sent home, without anyone paying much attention.  The defendants made a typical blame-the-victim argument: Mr. Catlin did it to himself through his lifestyle (he smoked and drank alcohol and, besides, the ulcer was especially large and the surgeons couldn’t take the standard surgical approach.)

Defense lawyers love to blame the victim.  They know that the average juror likes his own doctor, so they try to draw out those good  feelings and transfer them to the defendant doctor; there is no better way to make the defendant doctor look good than to make the victim look bad.  The defense lawyer will intone that the good doctor did everything he possibly could,  but the miserable plaintiff  led a life of sin and even the devil hated him.

Sometimes the tactic backfires, especially when the defense lawyer tries to force the facts to fit a pattern they just won’t fit.  Put the patient in a Procrustean bed, so to speak.   A doctor is, after all,  supposed to be able to handle a difficult case once in a while and juries know it.  A doctor is not a physician’s assistant or a nurse.

I can’t say that there was a time when hospitals functioned perfectly and doctors didn’t make careless mistakes.  I can say that I believe more mistakes are made today than when I started my career, despite the undisputed meteoric advance of medical science over this time frame.  Doctors work harder now to make less money.  Nurses spend time now filling out electronic records and supervising a bevy of poorly trained assistants.  Professional managers making six-to-seven figure salaries run the show and back-stab medical staff who complain about poor care.  Sometimes I believe it  a tribute to the resiliency of the human body that  a patient makes it out of the hospital intact.

The underlying cause of these problems is the government generally, and Medicare in particular.  Medicare has been unable to afford to pay for the care it promised since the mid-1980’s.  Unlike you and I, when we can’t pay our bills, we go bankrupt.  When Medicare couldn’t pay its bills, it simply decreed that the same work be done for less money.   Economic laws can’t be bullied, of course, and eventually, the health-care system began to show wear, despite a facade of dazzling MRI machines, wonder drugs and robotic surgery.

Tyranny has worked this way since antiquity.   The difference is that electronic bookkeeping entries in bank computers today can create as much money in milliseconds as it took corrupt kings months to do by melting down pure gold coins and reissuing debased ones.     The combination of an unlimited purse and an iron fist is injurious to our health.

Glenn L. Goodhart, M.D., J.D.

6065 Roswell Rd.

Northside Tower
Suite 410

Sandy Springs, GA 30328

Phone: (404) 255-3282

Toll Free: 866-959-2148
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lawyer and physician
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