St. Lucie Medical Malpractice Lawyer Spotlight: eICU Digital Monitoring of Critical Patients

The future of medicine is here! (Well, actually, it’s somewhere else. And in reality, it’s been around for about a decade.) It’s called remote telemedicine, and it is rising in popularity in Florida intensive care units, referred to there as eICUs. Concern among patient safety advocates and St. Lucie medical malpractice lawyers has grown as evidence mounts indicating eICUs aren’t always associated with the “amazing” level of care they promise.St. Lucie medical malpractice attorney

Florida Today recently published an article penned by a representative of Health First hospital system touting its digital monitoring unit as one of the region’s”best-kept healthcare secrets.” The writer gushes that VitalWatch ICU offers “an additional layer of protection” for severely ill patients at four hospitals along the Space Coast, with critical care doctors and nurses at headquarters monitoring ICU patients hundreds of miles away via a secure, live transmission of electronic vital signs and audio/ visual feeds. The benefit for these patients was highest on the overnight shifts, where specialist resources are often spread thin.

The article does not make mention of how many physicians are actually on the floor or whether the system has cut back onsite staffing on its eICU floors. St. Lucie medical malpractice lawyers have concerns the whole system isn’t as fail-safe as the writer indicates.  For an ICU patient, a lapse of even just a few minutes can lead to devastating and possibly fatal consequences. 

Recently, HBO announced release of a documentary this month called “Bleed Out” that chronicles one man’s effort to get answers about suspected medical malpractice in an eICU after a routine surgery left his mother brain dead. A significant premise of the film is the comprehensive Johns Hopkins study in 2016 revealing medical errors are the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., claiming an estimated 250,000 lives annually.

The documentary digs deep into the alleged failures at a 24/7 eICU unit to recognize that his mother had fallen into a coma – for nearly two days. Her son asked to speak to her physician that evening but was told there weren’t any – because they were all at a monitoring center hundreds of miles away. When he inquired whether the camera was actually on, he was informed it wasn’t due to “patient privacy issues.”

In a surreptitiously recorded conversation with the filmmaker, the surgeon discloses that if were sitting on the other side of the discussion, he’d be pressing the hospital to be held accountable for the lack of an ICU doctor on a floor with critically ill patients. When asked whether it was likely the hospital would ever tell the truth, the doctor candidly responds with a simple, “No.”

This is why our St. Lucie medical malpractice attorneys have significant concerns about the expansion of eICU units along the Southeast Coast of Florida.

As the Johns Hopkins researchers noted, the majority of medical errors and malpractice aren’t the result of inherently bad doctors, but rather the result of systemic problems such as care and insurance networks that are poorly coordinated or fragmented. Electronic intensive care units pose all sorts of possibilities for lapses in care, including:

  • Failed technology
  • Communication errors
  • Understaffing
  • Over-reliance on remote caregivers
  • Lack of in-person bedside assessments (which provide key information)

Further questions arise with regard to how hospitals can be held accountable for off-site patient monitoring by medical professionals who are not employed by the facility.

Lastly, we disagree with Johns Hopkins’ researchers conclusions that the pervasiveness of medical malpractice shouldn’t be addressed – at least in part – with litigation. As this documentary reveals, hospitals and health care providers are rarely open and upfront with the public or even individual patients in acknowledging error, let alone explaining how they plan to address it. Often, medical malpractice litigation is the only way to obtain accountability and press for necessary change that makes similar outcomes less likely in the future.

Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at David J. Halberg, P.A., Attorneys at Law, by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.

Additional Resources:

‘Bleed Out’ Shows How Medical Errors Can Have Life-Changing Consequences, Dec. 16, 2018, By Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR

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Palm Beach Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Alleges Wrongly Removed Kidney, Nov. 14, 2018, St. Lucie Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog