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Missed diagnosis is a portal to a medical malpractice suit

Steven E. North, Esq. and Laurence M. Deutsch, Esq.


The failure of a physician to make a timely diagnosis can be the basis for a successful medical malpractice lawsuit in New York. Often, such a failure can have catastrophic affects including permanent personal injury and in many instances death.

It is standard fare and virtually universal that a physician reviews the signs, complaints, and symptoms presented by a patient to formulate a differential diagnosis. Doing that means carefully considering a list of all possible diagnoses. Even if one is more remote than another, those with the most severe consequences should be, ruled out – the term used in the medical field – first.

In a recent article published in Medscape there is a discussion about a rise in the number of young people diagnosed with colorectal cancer only after it has become metastatic and presumably fatal. There is an inherent medical bias that people younger than 50, particularly those without specific risk factors associated with the disease, are virtually immune.

Colorectal cancer is quite treatable when caught at an early stage, but fatal if delayed. Hence, if a patient presents with a bowel issue, colorectal cancer must be a consideration. This does not mean that every stomach ache in a young person requires a colonoscopy. It does mean, however, that if symptoms compatible with colorectal cancer persist, the patient – regardless of age – should be referred to a gastroenterologist for a follow-up evaluation. It may not mean that a colonoscopy is warranted. but other less intrusive tests may be performed and repeated to evaluate the condition.

In the current state of medical services where patient volume is king and “face time” between physician and patient is at a premium, it is imperative that physicians spend sufficient time listening to a patient and appreciating his or her symptoms, rather than rushing through an examination and moving on to the next patient. A life could hang in the balance as well as a physician’s vulnerability to a medical malpractice suit.

Source: Medscape, “Colorectal Cancer in Young Adults and Issue Screening for Action” January 30, 2017