Medical errors related to “drive by medicine” appear to be on the rise. As an Ohio medical malpractice attorney, I see bad trends in medicine before they are reported. I am speaking with more patients who have had serious medical issues that were passed over by a consulting specialist who was too focused on a single issue to see the bigger picture. In each instance, the consultant had an opportunity to prevent a catastrophe, but rather than focusing on the whole patient, they took care of their issue and went on their way.
“Drive by medicine” — where a doctor is involved in the patient’s care but is too focused on one organ system or test result that they miss life-threatening findings — results from a number of trends in medicine. Doctors are now busier than ever, as hospital systems put quotas on billing and output. They cannot rely on nurses since nursing is often understaffed and underskilled, as experienced nurses drop out of the workforce due to deplorable working conditions. Then, we have hyperspecialization, such that a physician is looking at only one aspect of a patient while ignoring all others. Further, primary care doctors are spending less times in hospitals, while so-called hospitalists handle their in-patient visits. So, literally no one knows the hospitalized patient. This is a recipe for disaster. No one knows the patient and no one cares.
The medical and nursing professions once controlled their own standards of practice. Now they have left control to hospital administrators who are motivated solely by profits. Medical errors arise when patient safety no longer matters.
The concept of drive by medicine has been noted in recent articles in the New York Times and the New England Journal of Medicine. These articles focused on the medical bills associated with care provided by physicians that the patient never hired. But the greater cost of drive by medicine is to patients who suffer avoidable injury from medical negligence (aka medical malpractice).
I am currently handling a case where the client was suffering from progressive neurological deterioration due to an infection in his spine (spinal epidural abscess). He was seen by a specialist for an unrelated problem, who noted concerns about the patient’s condition, but told no one, ordered no tests and failed to otherwise protect the patient. This is not acceptable. In another case, doctors stopped a patient’s medicine for surgery, but despite seeing numerous world class specialists, no one mentioned that the patient needed to be restarted on the medicine. As a result, he suffered a stroke. In these cases, I hope to bring to light the dangers associated with drive by medicine.