Surgeon does not tell patient about pathology results, delays cancer treatment
Some doctors order lab, radiology, and pathology tests but never provide patients with full results
As a Houston, Texas attorney with a practice focused on medical malpractice, I speak with clients every day who have been injured because of poor hospital, surgical, anesthesia, nursing, and physician care.
It is always sad to meet with a new client who responsibly sought treatment early-on, but is now facing a limited life expectancy because health care providers did not take the time to follow up on information is right in front of them.
This is exactly the situation confronting a lady in her 40s who recently called my office.
It all started when she woke up one morning with excruciating pain in her abdominal area. She went to a Katy, Texas hospital emergency room, where she was told that she needed to have emergency surgery to remove her gallbladder.
During follow-up visits with her surgeon, the surgeon said that everything looked good, even though she did not feel well. Her friends and family members encouraged her just to give things time to heal.
Six months later, she continued to feel bloated and exhausted, and went to see an internal medicine physician. The internist ordered bloodwork, which came back with an elevated white blood cell count. An abnormally high white blood cell count is one of the signs of an infection.
The doctor suspected a problem with her appendix and ordered abdominal CT scan. When the radiologist interpreted the scan, he saw a tumor in the gallbladder fossa, which had spread into the lining of her stomach.
She quickly sought treatment at a cancer hospital, and then another, where she was shocked to learn that the gallbladder pathology results from the original Katy hospital came back as pre-cancerous. Neither her surgeon nor anyone at the hospital mentioned anything about this alarming finding.
Sadly, this mother’s cancer doctors have told her that her prognosis is not good. It would have been ideal for treatment to start earlier, which certainly would have happened if a surgeon, doctor, or nurse had followed up on the abnormal gallbladder pathology report.
Many of my clients describe their experience in hospitals and physician offices as feeling like they are in an assembly line. You are asked to show up early, but then forced to wait a long time before seeing a nurse, and then even longer before seeing a doctor. When the doctor finally arrives, the whole encounter often lasts just a couple minutes, with more time spent pecking on a computer then looking at you. Sound familiar?
In this rushed, impersonal process that many hospitals and doctors use, things can fall through the cracks. Blood and lab work are ordered, but the patient is never told of the results. Radiology scans, such as a CT, MRI, or x-ray, are done, with the patient never learning about the radiologist’s detailed opinions. Tissue or other samples are sent to pathology for study, but the patient is never told about the results.
To increase your odds of having a safer health care experience—where important things do not fall through the cracks—I recommend asking your doctors and nurses for copy of all reports from lab, radiology, and pathology studies. If the studies were important enough to be ordered, then the results are important enough for you to have in your hands to read, review, and ask questions.
I have found that most healthcare providers are happy to accommodate these requests. If you encounter a doctor or nurse who resists your request, be aware that it is your right to request and receive a copy of any part of your medical record. In such a circumstance, you may want to consider finding a health care provider who appreciates that patients are crucial part of the delivery of health care.
We are here to help
If you or someone you care for have been seriously injured as a result of the medical negligence of a surgeon, doctor, hospital, or nurse, call 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with an experienced medical negligence lawyer at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. In 2017, as in many prior consecutive years, he was recognized as one of Houston’s top lawyers by both H Texas and Houstonia magazines.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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Published in the July/August 2018 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine