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Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Illnesses that are frequently misdiagnosed

When health issues are a concern, Pittsburgh patients may want to be aware of conditions and illnesses that can be missed because of an incorrect diagnosis. Although issues such as surgical and medication errors typically get more publicity, studies indicate that misdiagnosis is a more common problem, potentially playing a role in up to 20 percent of medical cases.

In a recent study, nearly 30 percent of cases involving a misdiagnosis were serious enough to cause permanent disability or death. The more common the issue, the greater the potential for a wrong diagnosis as in the case of infections. An incorrect evaluation of an infection can be deadly. Blood clots in lungs can be deadly as well and are not always correctly diagnosed. This may be due to a lack of symptoms. Inaccurate explaining of symptoms may be a factor in misdiagnosis of heart attacks. This is particularly true in women as up to 70 percent do not experience any chest pain. Heart disease and stroke also have high rates of incorrect diagnosis.

Medical community must track safety errors, experts say

Pennsylvania residents might not be aware of how high the incidence of medical malpractice may actually be, but recently, experts testified before a Senate subcommittee on the subject. Afterward, the chairperson of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, Senator Bernie Sanders, stated that the third leading cause of death in the United States is preventable patient error.

One estimate says that preventable hospital errors might be responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths annually. Unfortunately, one of several weaknesses in the system is tracking and recording data on errors leading to fatalities, and this hinders the medical community's ability to address the problem.

Risks of medication error after discharge

Some residents of Pennsylvania may be surprised to learn how common medical errors are after patients have already been discharged from a hospital. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 50 percent of medications administered are not taken in the manner in which they are prescribed. About 20 to 30 percent of the prescriptions given to patients are never filled. According to a recent study, a patient's health literacy, or the ability to comprehend and interpret health information, is a significant factor in determining the likelihood of successfully following a physician's instructions.

The study found that more than 50 percent of the heart patients who participated either misunderstood the instructions or made a mistake with taking their medication after being discharged. The lead author of the study noted that some of the mistakes that were made have the potential to cause harm to the patient. The researchers sampled 471 patients who were being treated for heart attacks, heart failure and other related conditions that were being released from the hospital shortly.

Misdiagnosed man held in mental facility for 20 years

Pennsylvania residents may be interested in the story of a 52-year-old man who left a mental hospital after being held there without cause for almost 20 years. The man was reportedly misdiagnosed prior to his admission to the facility, and he has recently filed a lawsuit against 21 doctors, two nurses and a program manager. The medical malpractice suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court, asks for $22 million in damages, $10 million in punitive damages and $760,000 in lost wages. The suit says he was given treatment unnecessarily and held without cause.

The man's situation began in 1992 while he in Nebraska. According to police reports, he went to a home in a rural area and allegedly said he wanted, claiming that it had previously belonged to his family. After an altercation with the property's owners, he went to trial on multiple charges. The jury found him not guilty for attempted murder and not responsible for two other charges, citing insanity. In addition, the prosecutor dropped 22 other charges.

Medication errors caused by doctors, drug companies and parents

When their child becomes ill, most Pennsylvania parents do everything they can to help make their child feel better. This may include taking that child to the doctor in the event that they may need medication. What many parents may be unsettled to learn, however, is that medication errors are estimated to cause 7,000 deaths every year.

One pediatrician found that there are numerous studies available that show that there are ways to reduce medication errors. For example, one study found that doctors who use preprinted paper or electronic prescription order sheets that have clear and standardized medication orders reduced prescribing errors by at least 27 percent. Additionally, they found that doctors who worked with nurses and parents when administering the medication also reduced potential errors.

Diagnostic and treatment problems in Lyme disease

Disease recognition and early treatment has become the hallmark of modern medicine. Yet, as some Pennsylvania residents may know, this is not always true of Lyme disease. A lack of diagnostic capability makes this disease hard to spot and for patients may lead to long waits before treatment.

One 38-year-old man, a professor at Boston's Berklee College of Music, knows firsthand what waiting means. While in Spain, the professor was bitten by a tick and contracted the disease. He said it took him 10 months to be diagnosed and treated. The tick that bit the professor carried Borrelia garinii, a species of Lyme-causing bacteria not found in the U.S. and one for which the test done in this country does not target. One doctor even recommended he go back to Europe to be tested but refused to treat him after he did. With increasing neurologic symptoms, something common for B. garinii infection, he sought alternative treatment and infusions of silver led to kidney and liver problems. After almost 10-months, a Lyme-literate physician treated him with intravenous antibiotics, and he reported on "Good Morning America" that he was responding after losing six months at work.

U.S. mother mortality rate highest in developing world

Pennsylvania mothers may be interested in statistics that show America's ranking regarding its mother mortality rate. Though the country ranks below other developing nations, some medical professionals are doing their part to help raise the quality of pre-natal care.

In Philadelphia, the Maternity Care Coalition has launched a program that delivers health workers to pregnant women's homes. These workers help the mothers-to-be understand the heath care services available and how to navigate the system. One expert says that knowing what health care one is eligible for and obtaining that coverage can be particularly difficult for many low-income women. The MCC helps those women with paperwork, coordinating appointments and following up after the birth.

New Mexico widow sues doctors over husband's death

A New Mexico widow has sued a hospital, citing wrongful death and medical malpractice. Court records show that she is claiming her husband's cancer was misdiagnosed before his death in 2012. Statements from the lawsuit revealed that medical personnel assured the patient that screenings for cancer were negative. The only issue spoken of was a possible enlarged tonsil. This was brought up despite the fact that the patient had undergone a tonsillectomy in his youth.

The woman filed the lawsuit against the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The complaint says that the doctors affiliated with the hospital overlooked her husband's esophageal cancer in 2011. Healthcare workers involved failed to recognize the cancer, despite noticeable signs, such as difficulty swallowing and spitting up blood. By the time the 72-year-old man was properly diagnosed, the cancer had spread throughout his body.

Patients can reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, physician says

Many Pittsburgh patients may have seen a number of medical malpractice cases hit the news in the past. While this may make patients nervous about potential errors that may cause serious injuries or even death, there are several ways that individuals can take charge of their health and reduce the risks of suffering a misdiagnosis.

The problem seems to lie with how well doctors listen to their patients. An attending emergency department physician stated that studies have shown that doctors often interrupt their patients after listening to them for less than 10 seconds. In order to make those 10 seconds count, the physician stated that patients need to be assertive with their doctors. Patients should be clear about the problems that they are having and why they are there.

Malpractice suits may lead to changes in medical community

Pennsylvania residents may be interested to learn that some medical malpractice lawsuits may be the driving force for making some needed changes in the country's health care system. Although some reforms have resulted in better patient safety, some hospitals and associations are reluctant to make changes.

In the 1980s, no punitive penalties were given against New York Hospital after a suit alleged that an 18-year-old patient died due to improperly prescribed medication issued by an unsupervised intern. Some argue that if penalties had been imposed, the medical community might have restricted work hours and increased supervision sooner than 2011.

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