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Small Military Hospitals Subject of Malpractice Concerns

Doctor Checking the Heart of an Elderly ManIt’s been months now since the problems at the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system were exposed. Despite the appointment of a new Secretary of the VA, the systemic challenges associated with the VA show no signs of abatement any time soon.

And now, the military has a new arena of healthcare problems to combat: allegations of military hospital malpractice running rampant among the 40 smaller armed forces hospitals around the country. Unlike the VA healthcare scandal, which isn’t connected at all to these smaller hospitals, the problem isn’t that there are so many patients that they must often wait months for an appointment. Rather, it’s the exact opposite. These smaller hospitals treat so few patients that the quality of care is questionable at best.

Multifaceted military hospital problems

It might seem counterintuitive that military hospital malpractice is occurring at alarming rates due to a low influx of patients. Common sense might lead one to believe this gives physicians more time to spend with each patient, thus ensuring a high quality of care. But in fact, a low volume of patients jeopardizes diagnostics and treatments. Doctors and nurses are less able to accurately evaluate symptoms, make a definitive diagnosis, and recommend an appropriate course of treatment. Put simply, their skills get rusty.

According to an expose by The New York Times, a full two-thirds of military hospitals treated 30 or fewer inpatients on a daily basis in 2013. This is less than 30 percent of the typical volume at a non-military hospital. Perhaps even more shockingly, nine of the military hospitals averaged 10 or fewer patients per day, prompting one patient safety advocate to state that these hospitals should be “outlawed.”

Unfortunately, the low volume of patients isn’t the only problem spurring malpractice accusations. Military policies may be efficient and effective in a number of areas, but hospital administration is apparently not one of them. In fact, military policies encourage experienced physicians to switch to a second career in administration. This means that patients are largely examined by inexperienced doctors who are expected to provide services relating to everything from obstetrics to breast implants.

And as any military family knows all too well, continuity is not to be expected. Like other members of the armed forces, military medical staff members are continually shifted from post to post, which compromises the quality of patient care.

Patient alleges “guinea pig” view of military hospital patients

These are just a few of the problems plaguing the military hospital system. Current and former healthcare providers from these hospitals, both military and civilian, have voiced their concerns regarding the substandard quality of care and the administrative problems. As alarming as these problems are, putting a human face on military hospital malpractice is even more tragic.

Forty-two-year-old Irene Smith is a mother of three and the wife of a sergeant in the Army. In 2007, she went to a military hospital in Georgia for a routine hernia surgery. Due to a recurrence of her condition, she required a second surgery a year later. The general surgeon did not refer her to a specialist, despite the risky nature of the procedure. The surgeon allegedly perforated her stomach and then left her in the care of a physician who had only recently completed his residency.

That physician decided to conduct an exploratory surgery in response to indicators of distress, rather than refer her to a specialist. The end result is that while doctors at a civilian hospital did manage to save Smith’s life, she lost her stomach. In constant pain, Smith is no longer able to move properly or to work. Her health is in such an abnormal state that she has trouble finding a doctor who is willing to treat her. Smith is one of the patients who have filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the military hospital system.