This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
Failure To Diagnose Pneumonia – $900,000 Medical Malpractice Settlement
This case involved a 63 year old woman who had been treating with the same doctor for years and had been complaining of shortness of breath. Again and again, the doctor told her that it was nothing and suggested that she purchase an over-the-counter cough medicine despite what had progressed into a severe dry cough and an inability to sleep. When asked for a referral to a specialist, the doctor told her that it was unnecessary. Then over the next period of months, she continued to experience cough, fever, loss of appetite and shortness of breath.
The client sought a second opinion at a clinic and was immediately diagnosed with an advanced stage of pneumonia with one collapsed lung and the other only partially functional. Although treatment was immediately initiated, her condition was too severe by this time and she eventually succumbed to her illness and died. On behalf of her grown children, a lawsuit was filed and after much negotiation with the medical insurer, a settlement in the amount of $900,000.00 was agreed upon by her surviving family members.
An infection that causes the air sacs in either or both of the lungs to become inflamed is called pneumonia. Some of the typical symptoms include a cough with phlegm, chest pain while breathing or coughing, sweating, fever, nausea, shaking, and diarrhea. Those at greater risk for this condition include people with chronic diseases, smokers, people with weakened immune systems, and those in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU), as well as very young children and those over the age of 65. It may be acquired through bacteria, virus, fungi, or in the case of aspiration pneumonia, by ingesting food, liquid or vomit into the lungs.
Once a person has been affected, the severity of pneumonia can range from a mild condition to one that may lead to death if proper medical intervention does not occur promptly. Some of the complications that may happen include:
- Pleural Effusion: An accumulation of fluid may build up and gather in the thin area that exists between tissue layers lining the pleura (chest cavity) and the lungs. This fluid may become infected, which may then require surgical removal or drainage through a chest tube.
- Bacteremia: Organ failure is a possible complication if bacteria enters the bloodstream from the lungs and then spreads the infection to other organs, potentially creating a danger of organ failure.
- Lung Abscess: If pus forms inside a lung cavity, this abscess may be treated with antibiotics or it may require surgery to remove.
- Breathing Difficulties: In cases of severe pneumonia or if the patient has an underlying chronic lung disease, it may be necessary to place the person on a ventilator to assist with breathing, usually in a hospital setting.
Failing to Diagnose the Condition
As in our case settlement detailed above, it is unfortunately common for doctors to misdiagnose or fail to diagnose this condition. Especially during cold winter months, when more people are affected by various respiratory illnesses, emergency rooms may be less likely to order proper testing to determine if pneumonia is present. Symptoms are sometimes confused with and misdiagnosed as:
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
- Adult respiratory distress syndrome
- The common cold
- Sinus infection
- Acute respiratory failure
Even when a chest X-ray is used as a diagnostic tool to determine whether the infection is present, the physician must be careful not to misdiagnose the lighter areas on the X-ray (known as infiltrates) as another serious problem such as:
- Lung cancer
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
- Anatomical abnormality
When this medical condition is misdiagnosed as another illness or disease, valuable time is lost that could have been used in treatment. If you believe that you or a loved one were harmed due to such a diagnosis error, contact Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at 800-996-4824 for free help.