We rely on our family doctor for a range of services from routine check-ups to finding out of anything is seriously wrong with us and putting us in touch with a specialist.
However, family doctors are not always adept at diagnosing problems in the patients they see. The failure to diagnose is the biggest cause of medical malpractice and it claimed the life of an 84-year-old woman living in Virginia.
Recently Virginia Lawyers Weekly reported on how a $500,000 settlement was reached in a wrongful death case because the woman’s family doctor failed to test a slow-growing lump on her back.
The woman lived alone. Her family said she had the lump on her back for 10 years. It started as a golf ball sized lump and slowly grew. Virginia Lawyers Weekly reported on how the woman mentioned the lump to her family doctor on a number of occasions. He would tell her she had nothing to worry about and it was probably a calcium deposit.
The primary care provider’s records made no mention of the lump at all. The doctor did reference physical examination of the woman and on one occasion stated “lungs clear to auscultation and percussion.” This indicated he would have seen the mass on her back during her visits.
However, the woman’s chiropractor was concerned about the mass. He sent X-ray films to a radiologist who suggested the woman might require an MRI. The family doctor was contacted and the woman had an MRI in 2009. The chiropractor wrote to the doctor stating the MRI was of the lumbar spine and did not include the area of concern.
Despite this, the doctor carried out an examination on July 28, 2009, and there was still no mention of the mass in his notes.
On march 16, 2012, the elderly woman was admitted to the ER complaining of moderate nausea, vomiting and a headache. Further tests were carried out on the lump on her back. She was found to have a 3.5 cm left upper lung mass.
The condition proved to be terminal and the woman passed away on July 4, 2013. The death certificate listed chondrosarcoma of the spine as the cause of death.
The woman’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her primary healthcare provider, alleging a failure to observe and test a slow growing and invasive tumor. All cases are different and we cannot guarantee a given result, but the case was settled for $500,000. The attorneys for the plaintiff were Frank Hilton and Humes J. Franklin III of Harrisonburg.
This case was a very blatant example of a failure to diagnose by a family physician. The doctor had ample opportunity to get the lump on the patient’s back tested but failed to do so. There were some other missed opportunities too such as the MRI which failed to examine the area of concern. While most family doctors do a good job we can sometimes be over trusting of our physician. Elderly people, in particular, may be less willing to ask for a second opinion.
If you or a loved one has been harmed by a failure to diagnose a medical condition, call our Virginia medical malpractice attorneys today for a free consultation at 757.455.0077.