medical charts“When medical negligence, injury or illness is involved, legal nurse consultants can help lawyers prepare winning cases or save time and money when complaints cannot be medically substantiated.”

That’s a quote from a Kansas City Star article (2/3/09, Bacon), “Lawyers may benefit from nurses in medical malpractice suits.”

I agree with the statement wholeheartedly. I routinely work with several different legal nurses. In fact, in addition to the highly experienced (i.e. 20-plus years in practice) two nurses with whom we work most frequently, the Ziff Law Firm now has two nurses from the University of Rochester Legal Nurse program working as interns. These nurses help collect, organize, analyze and summarize medical records in our personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

In the same story, attorney Brad Honnold, with Goza & Honnold LLC in Leawood, KS, said: “(Legal nurses’) input is invaluable during the initial intake and screening process, and in determining whether a case has merit.”

There is no substitute for case analysis by nurses who have worked in the trenches and who know that a lot of the bad things that go on in the treatment of a patient NEVER make it in to the written chart despite medical training that requires ALL relevant medical data regarding a patient to be charted.

Reading between the lines on medical charts

The sad fact is there is a medical mantra that “if it’s not charted, it didn’t happen.” When things start to go bad for a patient, there is a very compelling tendency on the part of medical providers to hide their mistakes by failing to document their errors.

A recent Pennsylvania medical malpractice case the Ziff Law Firm handled illustrates the problem. The case involved a wrongful death action against a local hospital. In the official hospital chart there were less than five sentences by a nurse documenting her care of the patient over the 12 hours before his death.

If you just looked at the chart for this time period, you would have assumed that the care of the patient was just fine and you wouldn’t have a clue why he suddenly died.

However, at the deposition of the nurse, we learned that the chart did NOT accurately reflect the patient’s care and that there was TONS of important patient information that was NOT documented. WHY? Because this young, first-year nurse was concerned that if she charted all the inactivity of the doctors that were supposed to be caring for the patient, she would have been fired.

Plain and simple, she was covering her own butt (and the butts of the doctors who failed to respond to her calls that the patient needed immediate attention) by leaving bad information out of the chart.

It just illustrates why nurses are an important part of the litigation team. A legal nurse consultant has the expertise to spot gaps and inconsistencies in medical records. They can offer essential information at a crucial point in a successful case – before it is even filed.

Thanks for reading,

James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Tel. (607) 733-8866 Fax. (607) 732-6062
Toll-free 1-800-943-3529