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Failure to Inform Patient of X-Ray Delays Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Case Analysis: Failure to Inform Patient of X-Ray Results Delays Lung Cancer Diagnosis

We get questions about what makes a good medical malpractice case and what does not. We present a good example of the complexities that must be analyzed in cases involving medical negligence.

A 58 year old woman was admitted to the emergency room complaining of severe chest pain that wrapped all the way around to her back. Her chest x-ray results showed what doctors called a “vague nodular density in the left upper lobe.” In other words, she had an abnormal mass on her lungs.

The radiologist that discovered the mass suggested further review and the standard step in similar situations of further testing with CT scans. However, the patient received heart tests like an EKG, heart catheterization and blood analysis looking at cardiac indicators which were normal. Doctors discharged her after four days without informing her of her abnormal lung mass. She was only told to follow up with her cardiologist.

Not only was the woman never told of her abnormal lung mass, but her primary care physician was also left in the dark. This type of failure to notify anyone of abnormal chest x-ray results is certainly negligent. However, the law requires more than negligence before a legal claim can succeed. Injury victims must prove that the negligence caused their injury.

In this case, the woman was diagnosed with lung cancer one year and 8 months after doctors failed to inform her of her initial abnormal x-ray. At the time she was finally diagnosed, she had a poor prognosis. Experts opined that she would have had a better prognosis had treatment began at the earlier stage.

As it happened, treatment did not begin until her cancer reached Stage 3b and had grown to be a 2.5cm nodule. Some issues raised in this case include whether her doctors were negligent in discharging her before first making a diagnosis that would have explained her chest pain and not ruling out all other causes.

Other issues raised in this case include questions as to how exactly did the hospital communicate information. Was the radiology report communicated directly to anyone or not? What were the hospital policies on such communication? Did the radiologist review the x-ray while the woman was in the emergency room? If so, then the failure to communicate would be even more egregious. If not, did the hospital have a process in place to ensure such reports were read by treating physicians such as flagging positive exams?

In this case, experts opined that the doctors’ failure to inform anyone of the abnormal mass was negligent and that a good argument existed to support a claim that the delay in treatment caused the woman to have a poorer prognosis at the initiation of treatment.

For more on medical issues, see the library of articles by Daytona Beach medical malpractice attorney.

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