Modern medicine has evolved into a partnership of hospitals, private medical facilities, nurses and physicians. In British Columbia physicians generally practice independently. Hospitals and other facilities employ nurses, nurse practitioners and many other practitioners who are not physicians. There are many errors that can arise in this complex system. For instance, hospitals and other facilities might have standard procedures following surgery that a physician would expect to be followed. Sometimes, these standard procedures are not followed. Hospital staff can make mistakes in the administration of medication, fail to properly follow or document a patient’s condition or fail to call in a physician when necessary.
In British Columbia public hospitals are run by a number of government health authorities. They are liable for the medical errors made by their staff (known as vicarious liability- the law provides that government and corporations are responsible for the negligence of its employees and agents). Plaintiffs in lawsuits against public health facilities know that their damages will be paid by the government body. Plaintiffs in lawsuits against private medical facilities do not have that assurance. The plaintiff will have to rely upon the private medical facility having insurance or sufficient assets to pay a judgment.
Determining whether there has been hospital or nursing negligence requires a prompt and thoroughly review 0f the hospital records and, if necessary, obtaining the opinions of independent physicians and well qualified nurses.
Hospitals will establish their own committees to investigate what they believe to be instances of possible negligence or preventable error. These committees operate in secret because the British Columbia Evidence Act provides that plaintiffs cannot obtain any information from them. The reasoning is that, if hospitals face a possible lawsuit and if the committee information would have to be disclosed in the lawsuit, physicians and hospital staff will be less forthcoming in the investigation. The goal of these committees is to make recommendations that will make hospital care safer in the future and it is thought that full and frank disclosure will be ensured by making the committees’ deliberations secret.
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