Sick people go to the hospital to get better. Sometimes, what ails a patient is at first unknown. Other times people are admitted to hospitals with complaints related to aggravation of preexisting or chronic medical conditions. No matter what brings a sick person to the hospital, once confined to their room and at the mercy of innumerable doctors, nurses, and aides, many of whom seem nameless, a patient may get better, or, much worse.
Making the correct diagnosis is a critical first step in the treatment of any patient presenting to the hospital. Once a patient is stable and has a working diagnosis, the next critical step is assuring any sudden changes or deterioration are promptly recognized and treated.
Too many cases of medical malpractice involve failures along the course of these two critical steps in patient care. Both doctors and nurses are prone to breakdowns in communication, improper charting in an electronic medical record or failing to recognize key signs and symptoms. These and other oversights lead to unacceptable delay in providing treatment which patients require on an emergency basis.
The Differential Diagnosis – Eliminating the Greatest Danger First
Doctors diagnose a patient’s medical condition using several factors, including the history of the illness, the onset, nature, intensity, frequency and duration of symptoms, and past medical and surgical history. Doctors combine the patient’s history and presenting complaints with clinical information obtained by nurses, such as heart rate, respirations, and blood pressure, the physician’s own physical examination of the patient, diagnostic tests like radiology studies and electrocardiograms, and laboratory testing of blood or other bodily fluids.
Obtaining the correct diagnosis of a patient’s medical condition is a process. A process takes time to complete. However, some patients cannot afford to wait to be transported to the radiology department for an x-ray or for the laboratory to report the results of blood tests. Doctors and hospitals must recognize patients who require immediate medical support and provide medicine, fluids, artificial airways, or other medical treatment necessary to stabilize the patient until they reach a diagnosis and formulate a plan to address the problem.
Also, every doctor is trained to employ the process of “differential diagnosis” when first evaluating a patient. The process of differential diagnosis requires physicians to consider a list of the potential conditions or diseases to explain a patient’s signs and symptoms and then rule out the most immediately life-threatening conditions first.
Just as the treatment of a patient admitted to a hospital or emergency department begins with a diagnosis, the attorneys of Meyers Evans Lupetin and Unatin must begin the investigation of any medical malpractice lawsuit with an understanding of the diagnosis that was made, or should have been made, for a particular patient. In nearly every case, the patient’s diagnosis, whether correct or not, provides the backdrop for analyzing the mistakes which were made by the defendant doctors and hospital staff.
Whether the matter involves the wrong diagnosis after an incomplete differential, a delayed diagnosis due to poor communication among doctors and nurses, misuse of electronic medical records, or simply the failure to recognize key warnings signs and symptoms, the attorneys at Meyers Evans Lupetin and Unatin will isolate each and every error or omission to develop the true explanation for our clients’ sudden and unexpected loss.
To learn more about the failure to diagnose, please read Doctors and Nurses Must Look for Signs of Problems and Prevent Harm to Patients.