Med mal trial changes the way family practitioner treats patients

Ann Knef May 26, 2005, 9:33am

Dr. Kevin Bell M.D.

Dr. Kevin Bell M.D.

While lawmakers try to fix the state’s doctor exodus in the final days of a bitter legislative session, a Metro-East physician feels relieved and vindicated after prevailing in a Madison County medical malpractice trial that ended Monday.

But the experience has reshaped how the young Kevin Bell, M.D. delivers care to his patients.

Bell, 35, a family practitioner with Multi Care Specialists in Granite City, said the emotional toll of tensely waiting two-and-a-half years to be found not negligent for the stroke suffered by accuser George Wolfe of Granite City was “huge.”

“When the verdict was read I hugged my attorney and then put my head down to wipe the tears,” Bell said. “Some people think we’re (doctors) walking machines, but we’re not. We’re human.”

Wolfe came to the emergency room at Anderson Hospital in Maryville on June 13, 2002, with symptoms of a stroke. He was discharged that day, but returned two days later and was treated for a major stroke. He and his wife, Donna, filed suit against Bell, Anderson Hospital, (Legatus) Emergency Services and Sarah Scott, M.D. in December 2003 for not admitting him into the hospital.

All defendants except Bell—who was an on-call physician at Anderson Hospital during Wolfe’s first admission—settled and were dismissed from the suit before the trial got under way.

“This experience has drastically affected my patient care,” Bell said. “I don’t give medical advice over the phone anymore unless I know 100 percent who they are. I will most likely refer to the ER. I cannot afford to do any more phone consultation.”

He said that if a patient were to call and complain of a fever, an appropriate recommendation would be an over-the-counter remedy.

“But what if they had meningitis?” he asked. “I will ask them to go to the emergency room.”

Bell said being a doctor is not what he expected.

The cost of defensive medicine is racking up and diagnostic testing is taking the place of skilled clinical acumen.

“You can’t just rely on your clinical skills,” Bell said. “You over test, over test, over test. Order MRIs and blood work just to cover yourself.

“A person will come into the office with classic signs of a migraine. They’re light, sound, noise sensitive. They say, ‘the only thing I can do is hide in a dark room until it goes away.’

“Without question, I order an MRI.”

Bell said the cost of an MRI is between $1,000 and $1,500.

“That’s what we’ve become—testers,” he said.

Now that the trial is over, Bell expects to sleep better and have less anxiety.

“It was a massive toll,” he said. “It was hard on my wife and the nurses. Nobody likes to go to trial.”

As for the Wolfes, Bell said he feels “horribly sad for George and Donna Wolfe. I am terribly sad, but I didn’t do negligence in his care.”

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Anderson Hospital
6800 State Route 162
Maryville, IL 62062

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