The way eye care is provided in the United States is rather complicated.
You go to the optometrist for basic checkups and to get prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses, which are made by opticians. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who treat diseases of the eyes. Vision insurance covers eye exams and lenses, but medical insurance gets tapped for diseases or medical conditions of the eyes.
Of all the bad things that can happen to the eyes, retinal detachment has to be near the top of the list. What’s concerning is that it’s also at the top of the list when it comes to misdiagnosis by ophthalmologists.
What is retinal detachment?
The retina is a thin layer of tissue that is located at the back of the eye. Retinal detachment is a condition where the retina separates or detaches from its normal position.
It’s an emergency medical condition because when the retina detaches, it separates the cells from the blood supply that normally provides them with oxygen and nutrients. The longer that the retinal cells are separated from the blood supply, the more likely that there will be a permanent loss of vision.
Symptoms of retinal detachment & what you should do
Although many people think of retinal detachment as occurring when there is a blow to the head or some sort of trauma, that’s not always the case. The classic symptoms of this emergency condition include:
• Floaters, flashes of light, or a shadow appearing out of the blue in the field of vision
• Blurry vision
• A reduction in peripheral vision (side vision) that grows over time
If you have concerns about potential retinal detachment, it makes sense to go directly to an ophthalmologist rather than wasting time with an optometrist. While optometrists can certainly diagnose retinal detachment, they can’t treat it—that takes an ophthalmology physician.
A recent study published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology revealed some surprising conclusions about common misdiagnosis malpractice cases involving ophthalmologists.
A study of closed claims over a seven-year period found that 14% of medical malpractice cases involved a mistake or error in diagnosis. The surprising finding was that 38% of diagnostic errors involve the retina, and 29% specifically involved misdiagnosing retinal detachment.
The authors commented that these were not the expected results because every ophthalmologist is highly trained on recognizing the serious medical condition of retinal detachment. They concluded that the diagnostic mistakes aren’t related to a lack of clinical competence on the part of ophthalmologists, but rather a failure of the process.
The staff of ophthalmologists’, and even optometrists’, offices need to be well-educated, and guided by written policies, to recognize patient signs of the emergency condition of retinal detachment. When a patient calls or shows up with the symptoms, the staff needs to get an ophthalmologist to evaluate the patient as soon as possible. Sadly, I’ve met with clients who lost their vision because the front-office staff at an ophthalmology practice was too busy to recognize the critical symptoms of retinal detachment and didn’t schedule an immediate appointment.
The study authors also recommended that ophthalmologists undertake efforts to avoid distractions while examining a patient, so they can stay focused on what each patient is complaining about, their history, and factors that may indicate early retinal detachment.
If you’ve been seriously injured or have lost vision because of poor care or misdiagnosis by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, then contact a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney for help in evaluating your potential claim.