Texas Patient Safety Foundation Joins Malpractice Fight on Consumers' Side; New Web Site to Collect Information About Doctors and Hospitals Named In Lawsuits and Make It Available to the Public

DALLAS -- A Dallas family that has been devastated by the loss of a family member through a physician's error has established a foundation to help Texas consumers find information about incidents of medical malpractice and report them.

Carol Barger, a Dallas resident who served on the Texas Board of Medical Examiners (TBME) as a consumer representative, has agreed to serve as an advisor to the foundation, announced Craig Franklin, head of the new Texas Patient Safety Foundation. Among the foundation's top priorities will be monitoring the TBME's performance, Franklin said.

The foundation's Web site, www.TexasPatientSafetyFoundation.org , will collect information about doctors and hospitals named in lawsuits involving serious death and injury and make this information available to the public. Until now, no such clearinghouse has existed for this type of information, which consumers may want to consider before selecting a physician or a hospital, Franklin said.

Franklin, whose 62-year-old mother died in December 2000 after a doctor forgot to re-start her ventilator during a routine gallbladder surgery, said the Texas Patient Safety Foundation also will be a voice for consumers, as lawmakers take up the issue of medical malpractice this session.

"We cannot be silent while an estimated 3,300 to 7,200 patients die in Texas every year as the result of preventable medical errors," said Franklin, a Dallas-area business consultant.

Franklin said that he and other family members will meet with Dallas-area lawmakers in Austin on Wednesday to voice concern about a bill circulating in the Legislature to curtail the public's access to information about complaints against doctors. The family will be joined by other persons from across Texas who have been harmed by medical malpractice errors, as well as by representatives of the consumer group, Texas Watch. They will encourage lawmakers to support legislation geared toward making doctors more accountable and information about bad doctors more accessible to the public.

"As a family, we have become painfully aware of how often doctors kill and maim patients, how little is done about it, and how hard it is for regular folks to access information about incidents of medical malpractice," Franklin said. "As an organization, we hope to help change that. Our mother is gone, however, the work of this foundation will ensure that she will not have died in vain."

The Texas Board of Medical Examiners keeps a database of complaints and lawsuits filed against doctors, but this information is not available to the public. TBME makes information available only in cases in which a doctor has been disciplined -- a process that often takes years. Last week, the TBME announced it had revoked only 11 physician licenses in five years out of thousands of reports of questionable patient deaths.

Franklin contends that information about doctors who have been cited repeatedly in lawsuits involving serious death and injury should be made public much sooner, to allow consumers to make informed choices.

"If a restaurant's practices are deemed hazardous to the public, it is shut down almost immediately, with signs posted on the door, but bad doctors are allowed to keep practicing for years," Franklin said. He noted that a recent analysis of malpractice settlement data revealed that 54 percent of all medical practice lawsuits involve only 5 percent of the doctors in the U.S., and only 7.6 percent of those doctors were disciplined by their state medical boards.

"The bad doctor is not a character in a science fiction movie," Franklin said. "The bad doctor is real and practicing -- and putting peoples' lives in jeopardy in cities and towns throughout Texas," he said.

Family members at the news conference noted these statistics:

-- According to the National Institute of Medicine, medical errors in

hospitals kill 44,000-98,000 patients every year, and injure or maim

another one million patients. Pro-rated by population, these estimates

suggest that between 3,260 and 7,261 Texans die annually due to

preventable medical errors.

-- According to figures released in 2002 by the Texas Association of

Business & Chambers of Commerce, medical errors cost Texas $1.2 billion

a year.

-- Since 2002, the Texas Board of Medical Examiners has failed to

investigate the questionable deaths of more than 1,000 patients and has

cited a lack of resources as the reason.

Joan Franklin died at Doctors Hospital, Dallas, 10 days after what was to have been routine gall bladder operation. During the surgery, Franklin's anesthesiologist disconnected her respirator in order to help reposition her on the operating table and then forgot to reconnect her oxygen for about 10 minutes. Equipment safety alarms had been disabled or had been turned down too low to be heard over loud music playing in the operating room; none of the attendants noticed the patient's distress or that the oxygen bellows had stopped moving. The anesthesiologist did not inform others in the operating room about what had happened until after the surgery.

Franklin lived for 10 days with little brain function before dying on Dec. 21, 2000. Although her family repeatedly asked the doctors, nurses and other personnel involved in their mother's surgery for an explanation, none of the hospital's personnel revealed any information. It was not until depositions were taken in a lawsuit a year later that the family learned the truth.

The anesthesiologist involved in Joan Franklin's death since has been named in another complaint involving a patient death. Craig Franklin said that an official with the Texas Board of Medical Examiners told him recently that it is doubtful that his mother's case ever will be investigated.

Source: Texas Patient Safety Foundation