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Lubbock County Texas Medical Malpractice Law Blog

Errors in cancer diagnoses lead to complications for patients

Although a misdiagnosis of cancer is rare, it can be devastating for Texas patients who undertake an aggressive treatment or delay treatment as a result. For example, one woman who was erroneously diagnosed with breast cancer had a double mastectomy before learning she had been misdiagnosed. Studies have estimated that the incidence of misdiagnosis ranges from under 2 up to 10 percent.

Misdiagnoses may happen for several reasons. Tests could be mislabeled or placed in the wrong file. However, interpreting biopsy results is also not an exact science. For some types of cancer, biopsy results tend to return a more objective picture than others. For example, diagnosing lung cancer is relatively straightforward, but prostate cancer, breast cancer and melanoma are more subject to errors in diagnoses. In addition to diagnosing the cancer itself, it is also necessary to determine what stage the cancer is at. Getting this wrong can be as harmful as a misdiagnosis because the stage the cancer has reached determines how the treatment will proceed. Studies have also shown that doctors may feel pressured by patients and family members to make a definitive diagnosis.

The symptoms of cancer in the small intestines

Some Texas residents who are eventually diagnosed with small intestine cancer, or adenocarcinoma, may find that it can take a while to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Part of the problem is that the symptoms of this type of cancer often have more common causes, so patients who exhibit these signs may be misdiagnosed with other conditions.

One of the first symptoms of small intestine cancer often is pain that occurs in the stomach area. Rather than being sharp or defined, this particular pain can feel similar to a cramp. Further, the pain is not constant and can worsen or lessen throughout the day or after a person eats. As the tumor grows, it can start to prevent the blockage of food as it travels through the digestive system. Severe pain and nausea can occur if the tumor grows large enough to completely block the small intestine.

Pharmacists can help diabetes patients with counseling

Texas residents who have diabetes rely not only on doctors but on pharmacists as well. About one-third of diabetes patients use insulin and may require counseling on how to correctly administer it. A new article that serves as a primer for pharmacists covers current diabetes treatment options and suggests ways that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can offer counseling and increase patient safety.

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved many new treatments for diabetes. The peer-reviewed article, which was published by the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, discusses how treatment options have changed and advises pharmacy teams on situations to be aware of. For example, because about 20 percent of insulin users administer the wrong dose, pharmacists are advised to counsel patients who have recently been prescribed a different dose or different product.

Avoiding medical errors with new technology

In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a study estimating that more than a quarter of a million people die annually from medication errors in Texas and the rest of the U.S. Many of these errors are evident from the patient records themselves, which is why advances in record-keeping technology may help reduce the number of mistakes. Better technology can also simplify the process of determining liability in malpractice cases.

Still, digital record-keeping technology can give rise to its own set of risks. For example, nurses may neglect to record important health and drug information, such as any allergies or diseases that the patient has. It is essential that nurses ask patients for such information and correctly label patients' charts for others to see. Every nursing action should also be recorded. Nurses are encouraged to add a flow chart to the patient's chart for other staff members to see.

Dermatologists could prevent the misdiagnosis of cellulitis

Many Texas residents are diagnosed with cellulitis each year, but a study published in the medical journal JAMA Dermatology suggests that about a third of them may actually be suffering from other skin conditions. Doctors do not currently have a way to diagnose cellulitis reliably, which is a problem because a number of other medical conditions present similar symptoms to the bacterial skin infection. These conditions are known as pseudocellulitis, and researchers at a leading Massachusetts hospital evaluated 165 emergency room patients who had been diagnosed with cellulitis to find out how many of them were actually suffering from similar, but less serious, skin problems.

Dermatologists from Brigham and Women's Hospital determined that a third of the cellulitis patients they examined actually had pseudocellulitis. The dermatologists concluded that antibiotics had been prescribed unnecessarily 82.4 percent of the time and recommended that half of the patients they examined be sent home. A follow-up study of the discharged patients was ordered, and none of them reported that their symptoms had got worse.

Study sheds light on post-treatment Lyme disease

In Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. where ticks are present, Lyme disease has become a big problem. What's worse is that 10 to 20 percent of people who contract the disease continue to report symptoms even after the antibiotics have supposedly cured them. These symptoms range from joint pain to brain fog and even clinical depression, and they may persist for months after treatment.

This condition, known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, has been notoriously hard to diagnose, but new research from Johns Hopkins University has shed some light on it. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center analyzed 61 patients with PTLDS and compared them to a control group of 28 healthy patients. After a series of exams, including neurological tests and blood marker tests, scientists found that the 61 patients showed as little sign of unsound health as the 28.

System looks at ways to track misdiagnosis rate

When Texas patients go to the doctor, they expect to receive correct answers and diagnoses that fit their conditions. A misdiagnosis can endanger the health of a patient, leading to disability or even death when incorrect treatments are applied or an underlying serious illness goes untreated.

Delayed treatment due to a misdiagnosis can lead to very negative outcomes. Because of this, a researcher from the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality is working to introduce an approach to help hospitals monitor errors in diagnosis. The approach is called SPADE, or Symptom-Disease Pair Analysis of Diagnostic Error. Studies have shown that approximately 12 million people in the United States annually experience diagnostic errors or misdiagnosis. A full one-third of those cases lead to serious injuries.

Treating sepsis

About 1 to 3 million people throughout Texas and the rest of the nation receive a diagnosis of sepsis every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 30 percent of those people will die from the condition.

The head of the Epidemiological Research and Innovations Branch at the CDC states that sepsis is the result of the body overreacting to an infection. Sepsis has the potential to be fatal because the inflammation and blood flow stoppage it causes can result in organ failure.

Conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed

In Texas and across the U.S., millions live with undiagnosed cancer. Unfortunately, missed diagnoses will increase the chances of failed treatments and death. Though cancer is the one condition that's most frequently misdiagnosed, there are many more to watch out for.

Depression is the second most frequently misdiagnosed condition. While it affects more than 350 million people worldwide, it's experienced differently by each person. Lyme disease, on the other hand, is often mistaken for depression. Its symptoms, which range from fatigue to fevers to mood changes, can be caused by a single tick bite. Celiac disease tends to be misdiagnosed because it can give rise to over 200 different symptoms. It is an intestinal disease triggered by the consumption of gluten.

Diagnostic procedure for multiple sclerosis under revision

Texas patients who are seeking a diagnosis for an unknown illness or condition may be interested to learn that the McDonald Criteria for diagnosing multiple sclerosis was revised. The revisions could help speed up the diagnostic process while reducing the potential for a misdiagnosis.

MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin, or protective sheath, that surrounds nerve fibers. Eventually, the nerves can become permanently damaged, causing some patients to lose the ability to walk. While there is no cure, a speedy multiple sclerosis diagnosis and early treatment can help those suffering from the disease manage their symptoms and even modify the course of the disease. However, obtaining one can be difficult as there are multiple tests that are needed before a diagnosis can be made. While the multiple tests can potentially rule out other conditions, the process can delay a diagnosis.

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