Each year, 440,000 Americans die from medical negligence. It’s the third leading cause of preventable death, behind only heart disease and cancer. A big cause of these preventable deaths is doctors recklessly prescribing opioid narcotics.
Two weeks ago, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus took on this problem by suing five of the world’s largest drug manufacturers.
While the Orange County DA takes on the national drug companies, there’s also a simple fix close to home.
This November, Californians will vote on a ballot measure to require doctors to check an existing prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics. A quick check of a statewide database could alert a doctor to a pattern of drug abuse. Yet currently, only 6 percent of prescribers actually use it.
The ballot initiative, the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, will improve patient safety and save lives, not only by requiring doctors to check the database, but by implementing two additional protections to help prevent medical negligence.
I know firsthand the horrible consequences of medical errors. My husband John went in for a simple surgery but doctors we trusted let an unqualified resident perform the most dangerous part: placing a dialysis line in his neck. The resident pierced John’s carotid artery twice, causing catastrophic brain damage with no hope of recovery. The doctors knew their mistake but tried to cover up the evidence of their wrongdoing.
John was only 40 years old when he died. I was widowed at 37.
The ballot initiative would also require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors, just like pilots, police, and other public-safety professions.
Nearly one in five doctors will suffer substance abuse problems during their careers, and some of those doctors will harm their patients. Would you want a doctor who was drunk or high to operate on you?
In addition, the Pack Act will modernize our state’s $250,000 malpractice damage cap to account for more than 39 years of inflation.
Bob Pack authored the ballot measure after his children Troy and Alana, ages 10 and 7, were killed by a high and drunk driver. Multiple doctors at the same hospital had prescribed the woman thousands of pills without even checking if she had any symptoms. When Bob tried to hold the doctors whose reckless prescribing led to his kids’ deaths accountable, he found out that the cap says the life of a child is worth no more than $250,000. Because of it, the hospital had no financial incentive to change its practices.
Dr. Michael Glueck’s recent column in the Newport Beach Independent argues the Pack Act will increase health care costs just to benefit attorneys. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Governments will reap significant savings in Medi-Cal drug costs as doctors take greater care in prescribing. Doctor-shopping addicts will be derailed. The savings to state and local government could rise to more than $400 million a year.
And to be sure there’s no “windfall” for attorneys, the initiative maintains the existing restrictive limits on attorney fees in malpractice cases.
In case you are wondering, I’m an attorney but don’t handle medical malpractice cases. I’m supporting the Pack Patient Safety Act because my husband was a victim, and so that no young woman or family ever has to go through what I did.
In November, we can accept a status quo of far too many impaired doctors, far too much reckless prescribing, and far too many patients killed or maimed by hospital errors. Or we can seek sensible change that will save lives and money.
As someone who lost her husband to medical negligence, the choice seems clear.
Solange Ritchie is an attorney in Costa Mesa.