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Should New York doctors undergo drug testing?

If you have read our New York medical malpractice blog for any period of time, you are probably well aware of the myriad of situations in which medical treatment can go wrong, causing significant harm or even death to patients. Before undergoing treatment, you will have to suspend the fear that your doctor, nurse or other medical professional will inflict harm upon you, either negligently or intentionally. Doing so can be a daunting task.

Many people believe that hospitals and medical facilities should do more to alleviate patient fears and reduce the potential of harm by taking additional precautionary steps to prevent medical malpractice. One example of this is detailed in a recent New York Times editorial, which proposes that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals undergo random drug testing.

The editorial makes a compelling case for drug testing with the story of a medical technician that routinely stole fentanyl, a potent pain medication, from his patients. Specifically, the technician would inject the drug into his arm and refill the same syringe with saline for injection into the patient. Not only did he steal drugs from the patients that needed them, but he also infected 45 patients with hepatitis C. At least two people ultimately died as a result of the technician’s drug theft.

 

How did the technician get away with such an egregious crime? He evaded detection, transferring between hospitals and states – at least 12 and eight, respectively – and took advantage of the lack of communication between facilities to continue his crime. (He was eventually convicted and sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison.)

Although this is an extreme case, the editorial states that a simple random drug test could have alerted hospital officials to the tech’s drug use and prevented him from harming patients. Drug tests are standard in many other professions, ranging from airline pilots to truck drivers to pipeline emergency response crews, so there is no reason that they should not be required in the medical profession, the editorial argues.

What do you think? Should medical professionals be required to undergo random drug testing? What other measures could medical facilities put into place to catch offenders such as the tech discussed above?

Source: New York Times, “Why Aren’t Doctors Drug Tested?” Daniel R. Levinson and Erika T. Broadhurst, March 12, 2014

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