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Communication Errors Among Doctors Leads To $2.5 Million Prostate Cancer Malpractice Lawsuit

People generally rely on a doctor communicating any important test results or recommendations to us

, even if circumstances prevent us from going back to that doctor. Indeed, when an early diagnosis of a disease or condition could literally mean the difference between life and death it is critical that the patient be informed. When the patient is made aware of each doctor's conclusions and the rationale behind those conclusions then at least the patient can make an informed decision based on his or her level of risk tolerance. It becomes more complicated, however, when the one doctor who is on the right track ends up not communicating his or her suspicions and the other doctors are not ordering the right tests.

One such situation arose in the following case: Several doctors had an opportunity to diagnose their male patient's prostate cancer while it was in its early stages. The patient first saw his primary care physician, a general practitioner, with urinary problems when he was 56 years old. The general practitioner concluded that the problems were not related to cancer although no testing was done to rule out cancer. Ten months later the patient consulted with a urologist who performed a digital examination on the prostate gland and ordered a PSA blood test. As it turned out this urologist was not an approved provider under the patient's insurance and so the patient consulted with a second urologist.

Although the blood test results came in neither the results of the test nor the first urologist's suspicion of cancer and recommendation that a biopsy be conducted were communicated to the patient's primary care physician or to his second urologist. The second urologist concluded that the examination of the prostate was normal and that there was no evidence of cancer.

As such the cancer went undiagnosed for two years at which time it had spread beyond the prostate. The physicians treating the patient's cancer concluded that he likely had only one to five years to life as a result of the cancer's spread. The law firm that handled this matter reported that they were able to achieve a settlement during jury selection at trial in the amount of $2.5 million on behalf of the patient.

In addition, the family doctor did not conduct a physical examination of the prostate to determine if there was anything about the gland that would indicate the presence of cancer. And while the urologist approved by the insurance company did a physical examination, that urologist failed to detect anything. Yet, neither the family doctor nor the approved urologist ordered a PSA blood test. The one physician who did order a PSA blood test recommended a biopsy. This appears to have been the critical test that could have raised the suspicion of cancer and, with a biopsy, resulted in an early stage diagnosis.

As the case discussed above shows, having more than one physician can lead to multiple errors. The first error consisted of not following the screening guidelines. This was a mistake committed by both the general practitioner as well as the second urologist. The other error was one in communication. This happened when there was a miscommunication of the findings, suspicions, and recommendations of the urologist unapproved by the insurance company and the other physicians.

If the patient had been able to keep seeing the unapproved urologist the patient would have known that cancer was a possibility and that a follow up biopsy was in order. Whether the other physicians would have agreed with that recommendation or would have passed this information to the patient if they had received it is unknown but then the error would have been entirely theirs.

As occurred in the case discussed above, errors such as these can delay the diagnosis of the patient's cancer. The difficulty with cancer is that a delay in diagnosis can, as it did in the case, allow the cancer time to grow and to spread, so that by the time the cancer is finally diagnosed it is too late for a cure. These types of errors can lead to a medical malpractice claim. The case above was settled and most settlements are reached without any admission of wrongdoing or of liability on the part of defendants. It is not surprising, however, that the case settled for $2.5 million.

by: Joseph Hernandez
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Communication Errors Among Doctors Leads To $2.5 Million Prostate Cancer Malpractice Lawsuit Washington