Laboratory Error and Medical Malpractice
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Laboratory errors are one source of medical malpractice claims. Laboratory, diagnostic, or testing errors can be divided into several categories.
1. Test Misinterpretation
X-rays, pathology, and other medical tests can be misread or misinterpreted. The first cause is usually the test itself. X-ray are an imprecise test with misreading or misinterpretation rates as high as 25%. Both the radiologist and physician should consider more accurate tests such as Ct Scan or MRI. The question is whether a reasonably competent physician within the same area of speciality would have made the same error.
2. Absence of Followup
Sometimes a test may be accurately read but no followup done. An x-ray may indicate a tumor, but the test results are ignored. The question is then who had responsibility for the patient and required followup.
3. Defenses to Laboratory Error Malpractice Claims
Not all diseases are seen through every diagnostic test. Small tumors can legitimately be missed on a chest-ray. For example, a patient with advanced cancer had a tumor missed on admission to the hospital but when our expert radiologist reviewed the slides, he did not see the tumor either so the missed diagnosis was not malpractice. Othertimes physicians will dispute which professional is responsible.
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Bonini, Errors in Laboratory Medicine.Clinical Chemistry 48: 691-698, 2002
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Howard Gutman is a New Jersey attorney based in Parsippany, New Jersey who has handled numerous legal claims involving pulmonary tumors. A member of the board of directors of a leading cancer support group and a caregiver, he is the author of the new book Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma. In his legal capacity, he has appeared on Good Day New York, spoken at the National Press Club and been interviewed by NBC Nightly News.