You trust your healthcare team to make crucial decisions regarding your life and wellbeing. Good medical professionals respect that trust. Doctors even take the Hippocratic oath: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm,” which is often summarized as “First, do no harm.”
The problem is that not all doctors respect that. In fact, some rare doctors are actively, recklessly negligent. A single bad doctor can ruin thousands of lives.
That’s just what the Veterans’ Administration discovered when they reviewed the work of an Arkansas doctor. The report detailed that Dr. Robert Levy, a former pathology laboratory director and pathologist, made more than 3,0000 mistakes over 13 years. 589 of those were considered “major diagnostic discrepancies.
Levy was responsible for interpreting lab specimens sent to him by other physicians. His interpretations determined whether patients were diagnosed with conditions like cancer.
Levy was the head of his department and essentially “policed himself” – no one else looked over his work. Since no one else reviewed his diagnoses, the mistakes he made went undetected. This could and did lead people to die of cancers that could have been treated had they been caught by Levy the first time.
Why did Levy make so many mistakes? It’s simple: he was frequently drunk on the job. The report cited many reports of Levy showing up to work appearing drunk. It also mentioned Levy’s attempts to hide his alcohol abuse by taking a chemical that prevented intoxication from appearing on a substance abuse test. It even discussed Levy’s 30-year history of alcohol abuse.
Despite all of that, the administration at Levy’s hospital didn’t remove him from his position. His coworkers made regular reports about his alcohol abuse, but they were largely ignored.
If this one doctor managed to remain employed for 13 years despite constant substance abuse, he’s certainly not alone. Doctors around the country can and do make poor decisions and work while impaired. That can have lifelong consequences for their patients. Here’s what you need to know about the impact of impaired doctors and how you can fight back.
The Impact of Impaired Doctors
Reports show that doctors abuse drugs and alcohol at the same rate as the general public. About 15% of all physicians will be impaired on the job at some point during their career. Doctors are less likely to drink alcohol, but they have more access to opioids and benzodiazepines. All of these substances leave medical professionals unable to do their job to a reasonable standard.
Theoretically, healthcare establishments should be the best place to identify and manage people who are abusing substances. In practice, that’s not the case. Doctors are better able to hide the symptoms of substance addiction precisely because of their training. That means that many doctors can work for years or decades before their colleagues realize they’re impaired.
That has an incredible, negative impact on patients. Medical professionals who are drunk or otherwise impaired make bad decisions. They’re generally more likely to be distracted and make mistakes like prescribing the wrong medicine. Like Levy, they can misdiagnose patients, leading to unnecessary treatments and untreated diseases. They can even perform medical procedures incorrectly, up to and including surgeries.
That has deadly consequences. Studies show that medical errors of all kinds claim up to 250,000 lives in American annually. That places medical errors as the third-leading cause of death in the country. Since impaired doctors are more likely to make mistakes, it’s clear that an excessive number of those deaths are due to healthcare professional substance abuse.
Even outside cases where a patient dies, medical errors can have lasting consequences. Taking the wrong medication can lead to unnecessary side effects while your health problem goes untreated. Poorly done surgeries take longer to heal. Unnecessary medical bills can stress your budget. Your doctor’s negligence can ruin your health and finances for years to come.
What to Do If Your Doctor Is Impaired
If a healthcare professional is intoxicated or impaired when doing their job, they’re likely committing medical malpractice. This occurs whenever a healthcare professional or establishment causes an injury to a patient through negligence or neglect. Any mistakes your doctor makes while intoxicated is, by definition, medical malpractice.
That’s because working while impaired is the height of negligence. If a doctor is taking illicit substances while working, they are actively making themselves worse at their jobs. They have a duty to patients to provide them with clear-headed medical care, and they are in breach of that duty. If they injure anyone while intoxicated and working, they’ve met all four requirements for legal negligence.
If you believe someone on your healthcare was impaired at work, you need to take action. They likely aren’t just hurting you. All of their patients may be suffering from their behavior. You can help protect others by reporting the negligent party.
First, report the professional’s behavior to their workplace and the state Medical Board. They will investigate your doctor’s actions. If they find proof that your doctor was impaired, they can fire or suspend them.
Second, if you or a loved one has already been harmed by an impaired medical professional, get legal help. The Medical Board and the healthcare institution won’t compensate you for your losses. However, an attorney can help you take legal action, ensuring that your healthcare needs are met and the doctor can’t hurt anyone else.
Fight Back Against Drunk Doctors
You deserve better than a doctor who’s drunk and dangerous. If you’ve already been hurt by an impaired medical professional, you may be able to sue them for your losses. Reach out to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your case.
The last thing you need to do while you recover is handle a legal nightmare alone. Your attorney will help you decide whether a lawsuit is worthwhile and help you file your case. They will also help you navigate the legal system, so you don’t have to face it on your own. Start fighting for your health and accept your free consultation today.