Undiagnosed, Undisclosed, and Mishandled Incidental Findings Often Result in NJ Medical Malpractice Suits
Incidental findings in medicine are extra discoveries in tests, some indicating conditions other than the reason for a test. For instance, when you go to your doctor for coughing, fatigue, and tightness in your chest, your doctor may order a chest CT scan, looking for clots, inflammation, or lung fluid, as signs of pneumonia. When the CT scan shows fluid in the lungs, the physician may confirm a diagnosis of a respiratory ailment. But when the scan also shows a nodule in your lung, that is an extra or incidental finding. Incidental findings should spur action on the part of medical personnel, especially the treating or ordering physician.
Doctors must act quickly and appropriately in response to incidental findings, particularly those that may indicate an underlying condition that may be life-threatening. Even seemingly minor ailments and conditions may be so at first, but soon spiral into much more grave problems if left untreated. Further investigation of an incidental finding, such as an alarming test result, should be initiated at the very minimum in these situations. In fact, failure to do so may cause serious harm to men, women, and children alike. It may also be considered medical malpractice.
If you suspect medical malpractice occurred with your incidental findings in New Jersey, you should know your rights and your legal options. When you have been negatively impacted by undiagnosed health problems and incidental findings that cause you harm due to physicians’ failure to act, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, loss of income while unable to work, permanent disability, the costs of rehabilitation, physical pain, mental trauma from your ordeal, and other damages. With decades of experience practicing exclusively in medical malpractice law, our attorneys at Fronzuto Law Group are prepared to answer all of your questions and discuss how we may be able to assist with obtaining compensation on your behalf.
Understanding the Prevalence of Incidental Findings in Medicine
Surprise findings in tests are familiar, yet they get lost in the shuffle of busy hospital and medical office professionals. According to a study by Christopher S. Evans, M.D., M.P.H., and others, slightly less than one-third of the 147,763 Emergency Department visits he and his colleagues reviewed noted incidental findings, especially in CT abdominal, head, chest, and neck scans. Evans and others searched medical databases, such as PubMed, for incidental findings in scans. They reviewed 1,385 studies and extracted 69 that met their criteria. Evans and the team also found no warning systems to alert medical personnel of the unexpected test discoveries. The danger comes when physicians do not follow up with patients regarding incidental findings.
Potential diseases that need quick diagnosis and treatment to cure, like cancer, may harm or kill patients when physicians who order tests overlook possible symptoms for another condition. A radiologist may point out the incidental findings of a lump or dark spot and report it to the ordering physicians. But other physicians, physician’s assistants, and other healthcare workers who see the patient are also responsible for informing them of the findings. The delayed report to patients with instructions to follow up with further tests or appointments with a specialist may delay diagnoses. The results could be disastrous.
Obligations of Medical Professionals when Incidental Findings Occur
Thus, the physician who orders a scan of a patient’s lungs to check for pneumonia must report the incidental findings of a lung nodule. However, often that doctor may not see the patient before discharge from the hospital, and the patient goes home without knowing about the finding. And the next healthcare worker who sees the patient may assume someone else informed the patient about the test results. Additionally, critical information, like incidental findings, may get lost during shift changes or when assistants or nurses order tests or sign off on test results without the primary physician’s knowledge.
However, the burden is mainly on the ordering physician or overseeing physician to carefully review test results. They must read the entire radiological test results, not just the end findings, to discover the incidental finding and follow up with the patient. They are the primary contact with the patient and responsible for communicating with them about their health conditions. Hurried physicians may skip to the end of a scan report for the conclusion and miss the details that reveal some other finding. In addition, information from the professional who ran the tests may report initial impressions verbally but later write up the report with the incidental findings that the physician never sees. And sometimes, the patient needs to follow up after being notified of the unexpected findings.
Much of the liability problems lie in the lack of communication between team members and systems in place that flag problem findings incidental to a primary diagnosis.
A Practical Example of Failure to Respond to Incidental Findings
When an individual enters the emergency department of a hospital complaining of dizziness and visual disturbances, the ED doctor runs head scans and treats the primary symptoms. The patient’s condition may require admittance into the central hospital ward, where an admitting physician takes over. The ED doctor may have read the incidental findings of a suspicious neck lump, but only after the patient is admitted to the hospital. They may presume the admitting doctor will review the test results and inform the patient to follow up on the lump.
When the patient turns up six months later with cancer, they will blame the doctors and hospital staff who failed to identify the lump, nodule, or spot the radiological reports detected. They may file a medical malpractice lawsuit against everyone who could and should have warned the person, or at the very least, warned another member of the medical team responsible for the person’s diagnosis and treatment. For this reason, a defendants in a medical malpractice claim are often numerous, including nurses, doctors, and assistants who saw the patient and failed to advise them or take necessary action in the event of incidental findings that could have prevented further development of a severe condition, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, or ovarian cancer.
Negligence in the Event of Incidental Findings
All medical professionals owe the patient a duty of responsible care up to the standards of their profession. For example, the American Medical Association holds physicians to obligations of patient care that promote well-being and ensure safe, effective, timely, patient-centered care. Physicians must perform their duties up to the standards of practice current in their profession. They may face medical malpractice lawsuits when they fall below those standards and harm patients. In law, this is referred to as medical negligence. Busy or not, competent physicians know proper patient care requires relaying critical information found in tests to the patient and following up to ensure the patient understands they must take further action to protect their health. Assuming others will take care of that task is negligence.
Doctors Failed to Respond to Suspicious Test Results in NJ, What can I Do?
If you or your loved one suffered a condition that could have been avoided or treated with a prompt diagnosis and treatment to avoid progressively worsening symptoms and further complications, you should speak with an informed New Jersey medical malpractice lawyer at Fronzuto Law Group. If your emergency room and hospital admitting doctor failed to tell you about incidental findings in your scans, they may have caused your delayed diagnosis and as such, the progression of your or your loved one’s disease and lengthy treatment.
Our medical malpractice attorneys can explain the medical professionals’ responsibility, the laws surrounding medical standards of care and negligence, and potential compensation that you may be entitled to, which can go a long way to help you with your medical and financial challenges. Although a medical malpractice lawsuit is challenging, having excellent legal representation is crucial to your success. Our experienced lawyers can help you gather evidence, interview potential witnesses, consult with medical experts, negotiate a settlement for full compensation, and prepare for trial if necessary.