Medical malpractice lawsuits are increasing annually in the United States, and one specialty sector getting the brunt of those lawsuits appears to be cardiologists.
One recent study by insurers, examining claims from 2006 to 2015, found that the number of malpractice lawsuits filed against cardiologists increased by 91 percent. More so, the total liability paid out in those claims saw a growth of 142 percent.
So, what makes a cardiologists the center for malpractice lawsuits? Are more Americans simply visiting cardiologists today? The causes of this rise are plentiful, and the reasons for the suits themselves vary. Therefore, it requires a closer look into the types of claims filed, and what might have brought them about, to better understand why cardiologists have seen such an increase.
More importantly, patients seeing any type of specialist should be aware of the risks and advocate for themselves. Just because it is a doctor does not mean they are always right, and knowing what risks are out there by not speaking up could save a life.
The reasons for each malpractice claim varied, but researchers found a trend in the number of allegations for improper medical treatment and diagnostic errors – a leading cause of malpractice in all areas of medicine.
Failure to Diagnose a Heart Attack
One issue was the diagnosis of myocardial infarction (MI – also known as a heart attack). The number of Americans having heart attacks is on the rise, and it is one of the leading reasons for improper diagnosis claims against cardiologists, specifically.
Sometimes, a heart attack does not show up on tests, and people may have atypical presentations, making it even harder to diagnose. However, there were instances where doctors were too busy to take the time to run additional tests that would have told them the patient was suffering a heart attack and not having a panic attack.
Some victims presented with ischemic heart attack, which is similar to a heart attack. In these cases, cardiologists would delay diagnosis or make the patient think that the doctor overlooked a medical detail, because they were not diagnosed properly at the time.
Another cause for malpractice claims was the improper medical treatment given to some patients. Professionals feel this stems from defensive medicine practiced by professionals due to litigation trends. A specialty, like cardiology, is always at higher risk for malpractice. To avoid that, physicians may perform unnecessary tests and treatments to be “safe.” However, improper treatments can also lead to further complications, and each has its own risk.
For example, having a patient undergo surgery when it is unnecessary opens them up to risks such as infection, oxygen deprivation, anesthesia complications, and even another heart attack or stroke.
Another reason for the malpractice lawsuits was the inappropriate use of surgical procedures. In these cases, however, it was found that the patient was not fully informed. Therefore, when they consented to the procedure, they were unaware of the risks for doing so. Even though the patient signed the forms, they did not realize that their experimental or exploratory procedures carried higher risks than waiting to use other diagnostic tools.
Surgical complications, even during necessary surgeries, were another reason for malpractice suits increasing against cardiologists.
In fact, three common complications were found:
Also, cardiologists who opted for the transesophageal echocardiography, which is not an invasive procedure, encountered lawsuits for esophageal perforation and neurological damage from neck flexion during the procedure – both of which are preventable with proper care.
During a patient-doctor relationship, there are various points of care management and multiple ways where it can break down severely.
Physicians should have strict standards for following up with patients, especially cardiac patients. When a patient is told to go home after an emergency room visit for MI-like symptoms, there should be information given to that patient letting them know signs to look out for and when to come back. Furthermore, if the patient is given medication, they must know how to take it correctly and the risks and benefits of doing so. Physicians should also schedule regular follow-up appointments to see how their patient is performing while on those medications.
One area seen in the study was the use of anticoagulant medications, also known as blood thinners. These medications are dangerous to take and require frequent monitoring. The use of these medications increases liability for the physician, and the physician needs to know of the developments of new symptoms and regularly check patient blood counts to see if they can safely lower the dose.
Patients go to doctors and specialists because they trust them with their health – and for a good reason. The United States is home to some of the most talented physicians in the world, but mistakes still happen. Sometimes a mistake turns into grounds for a lawsuit, but how will a patient know when that happens? If a mistake led to no harm, generally, there is nothing to sue over. However, when harm or damages occur, then the patient may need legal recourse.
Malpractice is a form of negligence performed by a doctor or healthcare professional. While most of these incidents happen in the hospital setting, they can occur anywhere healthcare services are done, including outpatient clinics, physician offices, laboratories, and diagnostic testing centers. Most of these errors can be prevented. And when a healthcare provider makes a preventable error, they have breached the expected standard of care.
To have an actionable claim against a physician or healthcare provider, a patient must prove that the following elements apply:
Physicians and healthcare professionals are held to a higher standard of care than the average person. They have schooling and the expertise to treat people. Therefore, they are expected to not only use that expertise, but know their limitations. They must exercise caution, inform patients about procedures, and act how other professionals in a similar field would when presented with a similar medical case.
When a physician deviates from the standard, they open themselves up to the possibility of a malpractice suit – especially if harm occurs.
Every state has unique rules that govern when and how a physician is held responsible for patient injuries. It is imperative that a patient understands these rules and that they consult with a legal advocate for guidance. These types of cases are highly complex. Without an understanding of the law, mistakes can happen. And those mistakes might lead to an unnecessary delay in receiving much needed compensation.
Waiting for years after the injury will not work in malpractice. Instead, the law limits how long you have to file a claim against a physician or medical provider. Also, while you might have up to a three-year window, you should bring your claim sooner. The longer you wait, the more evidence and witnesses you lose, which makes it harder to prove your case.
The timeframe provided is the statute of limitations. And once you pass this timeframe, you cannot legally request compensation – no matter how much evidence you have to prove the physician’s guilt.
In most cases, the clock starts the date the accident occurred. However, the law might allow for the clock to begin from the time of discovery, because it might not be reasonable to expect someone to know they are the victim of malpractice right away (in rare cases). For example, you are misdiagnosed, but several years go by before another physician diagnoses you accurately. In this case, the law might allow for you to use the exception.
In Connecticut, attorneys are required to make an inquiry to determine if there are grounds for a malpractice case. That requires them to receive a formal, written opinion from another healthcare provider with evidence to prove malpractice likely occurred. This provider must be one of similar background and professional expertise to the physician being accused of malpractice.
After the certificate has been provided to the courts, the process of mediation begins. Connecticut relies on mediation first, but mediation does not always yield a result. When the case cannot be resolved in mediation, it will go through to the next stage known as discovery and eventually go to trial.
Some states have undergone legislative changes to allow for damage caps. Damage caps mean that the total compensation paid to the victim cannot exceed the state-mandated amount. However, Connecticut does not impose caps on compensatory damages.
The only cap you experience in Connecticut applies to punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and deter others from acting similarly in the future. Therefore, punitive damages can be grossly inflated by juries.
To stop this, the courts limit punitive damages to litigation costs of the plaintiff minus the taxable costs. Also, contingency fees are capped in the state based on the amount of compensation the victim receives, ensuring that victims walk away with more than a fair portion of their compensation.
Some states allow for a hospital or office to be accountable for their doctor’s actions, but Connecticut does not have vicarious liability statutes. While there is no specific law, the court does accept these claims on a case-by-case basis.
Navigating malpractice claims can be daunting, but that does not mean you should not pursue compensation when it is justified. If a physician injures you due to their negligence, you have the right to hold them accountable with a malpractice attorney by your side.