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Intensive care specialists, also known as critical care specialists or intensivists, are doctors who treat patients with a variety of critical and life-threatening conditions. These doctors generally treat patients in the emergency department, intensive care unit, or in general surgical units.
Critical care doctors are required to graduate medical school and earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO). Medical school graduates will be required to further specialize to practice critical care medicine.
Once critical care doctors earn an MD or DO, they are required to pass a state-specific exam to become certified to practice medicine. This exam will allow the doctor to practice any type of medicine in the state and does not demonstrate expertise in any one area of medicine.
Board certification is an elective, but important, way of demonstrating knowledge and skill in one specific area of medicine. Critical care specialists can become board certified in a number of different ways. Doctors can complete a three-year residency in internal medicine or pulmonary medicine, and follow up with a two-year fellowship in critical care, or they can use a two-year fellowship to sub-specialize in areas like cardiovascular or gastrointestinal disease and complete a one-year critical care fellowship. About 80% of intensivists start in internal medicine, and most intensivists study pulmonary care.
Critical care doctors are certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM). These doctors will need to maintain certification with both the ABIM and ABEM through self-assessments, continuing education credits, and re-examination.
Where They Work
Critical care doctors or intensivists usually work in hospitals in emergency departments, in intensive care units, or in general surgical units. Intensivists can work directly for hospitals or can work in group or private practices that are hired by hospitals.
How They Help People
Critical care doctors diagnose and treat a wide variety conditions in the most critically ill patients in the hospital. Like hospitalists, intensivists specialize in care for patients in intensive care units and other critical units of the hospital. They will be able to anticipate conditions in their patients and create treatment plans. These doctors may act as the primary doctor for a patient’s care or may serve as a consultant to another doctor.
Critical care doctors often treat patients facing potentially fatal conditions so the doctors need to be ready to make crucial decisions about the patient’s options. Many patients treated by critical care doctors have to face potential end-of-life discussions. Critical care doctors will provide counseling for patients and their families for estimating the prognosis of the patient’s condition and will help families discuss options for terminal conditions.
Intensivists also improve the overall quality of care in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and surgery wards. Since these doctors work with a variety of conditions specifically in critical care settings, they have extensive knowledge about what critical care patients need and what doctors need to do to provide better critical care. Intensivists work to improve policies, reduce complications, standardize procedures, enhance patient care and patient outcomes, and work to find the most effective ways of treating critical conditions.
Critical care doctors may lead a team of health care professionals caring for a patient to optimize and streamline the treatment plan. They may consult with other specialist doctors about the patient’s unique needs.
The average salary of a critical care doctor is $281,000.
Medical Malpractice and Intensivists
A data analysis done by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine which examined autopsy-confirmed diagnostic errors in ICU patients from 1966 to 2011 found that more than one in four patients, or about 28%, had suffered a missed diagnosis before their death. 8% of those missed diagnoses directly resulted in the death of the patient. This study only focused on cases that could be confirmed by an autopsy, so the numbers could be higher.
The study found that misdiagnosis occurs 50% more often in ICU patients than in general hospital patients. The author of the study concluded that today, this could mean that between 40,500 to 540,000 patient deaths in the ICU each year could be related to misdiagnoses.
In other words, most medical malpractice that occurs in critical care medicine is not usually the result of something a doctor did wrong, but the result of something the doctor failed to do or failed to consider.
Patients in the ICU are monitored constantly, meaning that their doctors face over 7,000 pieces of information about each patient. Intensivists need to be prepared to wade through this information and extract the most important parts in order to make the best possible diagnosis for their patient.
Other medical malpractice mistakes that can be made by critical care doctors include:
- Failing to communicate with other medical professionals on the patient’s care about important information
- Administering the wrong medications
- Failing to prevent blood clots
- Failing to prevent and/ or treat an infection
Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Patients in need of critical care often have complicated conditions that require a variety of treatments, which makes these patients more vulnerable to misdiagnoses and other doctor mistakes. Negligent mistakes in critical care settings often come at the cost of a patient’s life.
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury while being treated by a critical care doctor, call Gilman & Bedigian today to schedule a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys provide effective legal representation recover compensation for malpractice victims across Maryland.
Call (800) 529-6162 today to begin your case and to learn more about your legal options.