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Medical Staff Often Confused by Advance Directives

An Illinois nursing home was recently fined $25,000 for failing to follow a resident’s advance directive regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Tragically, the mistake resulted in the resident’s death.

According media reports, the nursing home resident was found unresponsive. While staff members were attempting to revive her, another staff member mistakenly informed them that the resident's medical chart included a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. The staff stopped administering CPR, and the patient died.

Unfortunately, medical professionals often misunderstand advance directives such as living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders, according to a new study. As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we are concerned these medical errors may lead to patient deaths and unwanted care.

A survey by QuantiaMD, an online physician learning collaborative, found that almost 50 percent of health professionals misunderstood the components of living wills. The majority of survey respondents incorrectly stated that patients with DNRs should receive significantly less medical care, even though a DNR only requires that a patient should not be resuscitated if found with no pulse. At the same time, about 20 percent said they would defibrillate a patient who had a clear DNR order.

A similar study published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine found that 78 percent of physicians misinterpreted living wills as DNRs. Alarmingly, the figure was slightly higher (80 percent) for emergency physicians. Unlike DNRs, a living will requires doctors to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment if the patient is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state.

These studies highlight that, without additional training to understand advance directives like DNRs and living wills, many medical professionals will make mistakes. In many cases, the failure to properly interpret or follow an advance directive can amount to medical malpractice.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.