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Thursday, March 5, 2009

An incentive to do the wrong thing: A Phenergan injection lawsuit

Diana Levine is a guitarist, age 63, living in Vermont. She went to a clinic, complaining of pain from migraine headaches. A doctor there chose to inject her with Phenergan, an anti-nausea drug made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Though the drug label permitted the drug's intravenous injection, it stated that "extreme care" was needed to avoid hitting an artery, because "likely" complications included "gangrene requiring amputation."

Unfortunately Diana immediately developed gangrene, and the musician's right forearm had to be amputated. She sued Wyeth, and won. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in a ruling today, by a vote of 6 to 3.

Diana’s case is especially significant because the Supreme Court's ruling enhances the rights of injured patients to hold drug makers responsible.

This case also implicates our payment system. Doctors are paid well for administering injections, and are not paid for prescribing oral drugs, for example, that usually offer available alternatives. The reimbursement system provided an incentive to do the wrong thing, and Diana is suffering for it.

Advice: Consider a lawsuit if a medication error causes you significant injury.

Read a story about a migraine sufferer.

Thanks to Jess Bravin; and Joan Biskupic and Julie Appleby for the source articles in today's Wall St. Journal and USA Today, respectively.

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