Articles Posted in Failure to Diagnose Cancer

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A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings reveals that 54% of American physicians report feeling burnt out at work. Lead study author, Stanford pediatric physician Daniel S. Tawfik, and his team found that those experiencing burnout were TWO times as likely to have made a major medical error in the last 3 months. Study authors also believe that based on this information, 1/3 of all American physicians are experiencing burnout at any given time.  Researchers describe burnout as “emotional exhaustion or cynicism.”

The study questioned 6,586 physicians in active practice at an American hospital or clinic and asked them to report feelings of burnout, excessive fatigue, recent suicidal thoughts, their thoughts on patient safety on the unit in which they primarily work, as well as those who had made a major medical error. The authors found:

  • 54.3%  of physicians admitted feeling burnt out
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When a patient hears the word cancer they automatically think the worst. Yet early diagnosis and treatment can slow or stop cancer and keep it in remission. We trust that our doctor will always provide us with the best treatment options for the various stages of the disease. Unfortunately, that was not the case for one Cook County man. A lawsuit was recently filed against an oncology doctor alleging negligence in the prostate cancer death of the man. The lawsuit alleges that the doctor did not properly treat the man’s cancer and this ultimately led to his death. The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

Negligent Treatment
According to information in the lawsuit, the man was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer which went into remission in 2010. His doctor then decided to discontinue treatment and monitor the PSA levels (prostate-specific antigen) of the man. In 2013 the cancer returned but the doctor did not continue the shots which had previously been successful in treating the cancer. Additionally, the doctor canceled an appointment with the man during which he allegedly took a vacation for a month out of the country. The cancer ultimately spread and the man suffered a fatal stroke in 2014.
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A woman has filed a lawsuit claiming a Chicago dermatologist failed to diagnose her skin cancer in a timely manner. The woman filed the lawsuit against the doctor and Northwestern Hospital, Northwestern Medical Group, and Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation. The lawsuit states that the woman went to the doctor because of a skin abnormality and was treated between August 2010 and May 2013. According to the complaint the doctor failed to do a biopsy of the area and therefore did not provide the proper course of treatment. The suit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

Skin Cancer is Dangerous
According to the CDC, melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer and it can be deadly. More than 9,000 people each year die from melanoma in the United States. If promptly diagnosed, skin cancer can be treated and can often be removed before it causes damage or spreads. In this case, the woman’s skin cancer went undiagnosed for nearly three years. Had it been correctly diagnosed when she first visited the doctor it would have been in the early stages. Treatment is most successful when cancer is discovered early. The doctor in this case was negligent in the failure to order testing that would have diagnosed cancer.
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A man has filed a lawsuit in Cook County against a Rolling Meadows cancer center for medical malpractice after his wife died of breast cancer. The lawsuit names Northwest Oncology and Hematology and the treating doctor alleging that they were careless and negligent in the medical treatment of his wife. According to the lawsuit, the doctor failed to monitor and test the woman, whose cancer was thought to be in remission. Instead, the woman’s cancer had indeed returned and she died in 2013. When a doctor or medical professional fails to properly diagnose or treat a patient it may be considered malpractice.
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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The World Health Organization stresses that early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances of successful treatment. An important part of early detection is proper screening, which is use of tests to identify individuals who have a disease. However, when a patient undergoes screening, such as a radiological procedure, and a medical professional misreads the test, the outcome can be catastrophic.

Importance of Proper Radiological Care

Radiological procedures help physicians get a better look at what is happening inside a patient’s body. These procedures reveal conditions such as tumors, broken bones and internal bleeding. Doctors rely on the results of these tests in making a diagnosis. In order to save peoples’ lives, the tests must be read properly to deliver a correct diagnosis that will lead to proper treatment. When they are not and a patient suffers injury, a delayed diagnosis or treatment, or a worsening in their condition, they may be able to file a medical malpractice suit to hold wrongdoers accountable.
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On May 9, 2014 we wrote about the House’s investigation into secret waiting lists that may have lead to the deaths of forty or more veterans. Now the Chicago Tribune reports that federal auditors have visited the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital due to allegations that similar secret waiting lists were also used there. The Hines facility is in Maywood, a suburb of Chicago.

The Tribune reports that a social worker has alleged that veterans seeking care at Hines were placed on secret waiting lists, rather than the official waiting lists. This was allegedly done so executives could collect bonuses that are supposed to be reserved for executives who provide speedy care despite an ever increasing demand on veteran’s hospitals.

The president of the American Federation of Government Employees VA Local 781, Germaine Clarno, told Tribune reporters that he has actually seen the waiting lists and that multiple hospital employees have told him about them. Meanwhile, the director of the facility claims she has “received no evidence or specific facts about data manipulation.”

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NBC News reports that multiple whistleblowers claim administrators at a VA hospital in Phoenix ordered thousands of appointment requests from veterans be diverted to a “secret unofficial list” that was not to be reported. The theory was, if those veterans died, their names would disappear, and the hospital’s performance record would improve. Then the hospital would not be held accountable for possibly killing the patient with a delayed diagnosis.

One whistleblower explained to NBC that there was a huge demand on the hospital, and that they had limited resources. Rather than finding a solution to the supply and demand problem, the hospital covered up the problem. Veterans, both young and old, tried to get the medical care they were promised upon entering the military, but were turned away without treatment or diagnosis.

Failures to Diagnose Caused Veteran Deaths

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The Center for Investigative Journalism reports that in the decade following 9/11 the Department of Veterans Affairs paid $200 million to nearly 1,000 families in wrongful death cases. The median payment for each family was $150,000. Thirty-nine of the veterans died due to malpractice at the clinics in Danville, Marion, and Hines, Illinois alone.

Delayed diagnosis, delay in treatment, and improper performance repeatedly appear as the type of malpractice in these cases. The report includes a Shreveport, Louisiana veteran who overdosed on morphine in a locked psychiatric unit and a delusional Portland, Oregon veteran who jumped off the roof of a VA hospital. It also includes Iraq War heroes who committed suicide after being turned away for mental health treatment and Vietnam veterans who died from known cancerous tumors that were allowed to grow. The Seattle Times reports that the 1,000 families includes the family of a veteran who bled to death after knee replacement surgery and the family of another who died after being sent home with fractured ribs and a fractured spine.

Nursing Home Fall

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In today’s world of gizmos and gadgets, we tend to trust our technology to make our lives easier and more error-free. However, a new study on computer software that is widely used to locate cancerous regions in mammograms shows that the technology may be doing more harm than good. The study shows that the software has not only failed to make breast cancer detection more accurate, but that it has also increased the risk that a patient will be erroneously told that her mammogram shows cancer cells.

The study, which may be found online in the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute,” bases its conclusions on the analysis of about 1.6 million mammograms taken at radiology facilities in several states between 1998 and 2006. The same researchers who have published this study were also the authors of a similar one conducted in 2007, when they first became skeptical of the efficacy of this mammogram technology, known as computer-aided detection (CAD).

The problem comes from the fact that mammograms themselves are not always as trustworthy as we would rather them be. According to the National Cancer Institute, the average mammogram may overlook up to 20 percent of breast cancers. However, studies show that having multiple radiologists examine a mammogram may improve the accuracy of its result. This is where CAD has been most often deployed – as a second set of eyes to look at a mammogram. Thus, CAD is being used as if it is as good as a radiologist’s eye, and it simply may not be the case that it is.

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Beyond aiding in the recovery for those affected by medical errors, malpractice lawsuits also play the critical role of ensuring hospital safety stays on the public radar. Without focused attention on the need to identify problems and improve, there is the risk of facilities getting caught in a rut–doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the errors that result.

The focus on malpractice does not exist only in newspapers. Medical researchers and academics are also drawn to the topic to study exactly what types of errors are most common and how they can be prevented.

For example, earlier this month international researchers published the results of a detailed study of a medical malpractice claims to understand what forms are most frequent. The findings were shared in full in the online version of the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open). The abstract and full text of the report can be found here.