Most physicians avoid discussion of medical malpractice except with other members of their profession. In a striking break with this tradition, a neurologist recently wrote an op-ed article about his own experience with inadequate medical care and the response of the treating doctor and hospital where he received the inadequate care.
The medical error
The physician who wrote the piece was an avid cycler. While visiting his daughter in California, he took a strenuous 15-mile bike ride. Shortly after returning, the doctor noticed neck pain and radiating pain and numbness in his arms. Two days later, the doctor visited the emergency department of what he described as “an elite medical center.” The spinal consultant did not own a reflex hammer, an essential and fundamental tool for neurologists. According to the op-ed, the consultant also failed to check for the Babinski sign, a classical clinical test for spinal cord compression. The doctor’s MRI showed a neck mass behind the spinal canal, but the hospital radiologist diagnosed the mass as a blood clot.
When the doctor returned to his home in Maine, he checked his medical records online and saw what had been diagnosed as a blood clot appeared to be spinal compression and an accompanying abscess. The doctor visited a hospital nearby to report his symptoms, and he was given urgent spine surgery plus long-term antibiotics. Left untreated, these conditions could have rendered the doctor paralyzed.
While he was rehabilitating, the doctor contacted both the emergency neurological consultant and the chief executive of the hospital. Rather than threatening a lawsuit, the doctor offered to review his experiences with the medical staff in order to heighten their awareness of the consequences of a negligent exam and negligent diagnosis.
The maltreating physician never responded. The hospital’s representatives responded with bland dismissal of his concerns and without offering either an admission of wrongdoing or an apology.
The doctor’s op-ed illustrates how physicians can make their errors more serious by failing to deal with their patients in a forthright manner. Anyone who believes that they or a loved one has suffered from medical malpractice may wish to consult a lawyer who practices in this field for an honest evaluation of the evidence and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages from the parties at fault.