Negligent Supervision Of Medical Residents Causes Serious Injuries To Patients

In Virginia, residents (“doctors-in-training”) at teaching hospitals may be immune from civil liability based on the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity. National medical research, however, increasingly supports the long-held concern that lax supervision of residents at teaching hospitals contributes to patient harm, even death. “Teaching hospitals differ from other health care institutions at the systems level, with potential implications for patient safety,” according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. “Teaching hospitals require inexperienced providers to work long shifts caring for large numbers of patients with complex illnesses.”

Researchers surveyed nearly 700 residents from about 40 clinical areas at two teaching hospitals and found that about half of the residents reported treating patients who suffered “adverse events,” or complications. When those residents were asked whether they caused the error, roughly one-fourth said yes. Most complications were considered significant, and inadequate supervision was often cited as a contributing factor, researchers said. “The multiple caregivers in these settings are sometimes sub-optimally coordinated or lack adequate supervision. This creates potential challenges for patient safety,” researchers wrote.

Two years later, another study in the Archives analyzed data from nearly 900 malpractice claims and found 240 in which residents “played an important role in harmful errors.” The mistakes arose in more than 20 clinical areas and, for most patients, the errors caused “significant” or “major” physical harm or death. Negligent supervision – either by faculty physicians or upper-level residents – accounted for over half of the cases of resident error, researchers found. The mistakes seen in the malpractice cases were the “tip of the iceberg,” they added, noting that resident errors have gone largely unstudied. Best practices receive little evaluation and accreditation standards for supervision are lacking, the researchers said. “Our data underscore the importance of appropriate supervision,” they added.

If you suspect that you, a friend, or a family member has been mistreated by a resident in a hospital or clinic, call Pierce & Thornton and one of our lawyers can help determine whether you have an actionable medical malpractice case against the resident, the resident’s supervising physician, or the hospital. The attorneys at Pierce & Thornton have nearly 50 years of experience in litigating all types of medical malpractice cases throughout North Carolina and Virginia, including cases in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Suffolk, and the Eastern Shore. They have obtained some of the largest jury verdicts and mediation settlements in Virginia over the past several years. If we can help you, we will. Your consultation is free.

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