Could gynecologists be sued for a missed breast cancer diagnosis?

January 1, 2010

Undiagnosed or a delayed diagnosis of breast cancer will invariably generate suspicion and anger on the part of any patient, and in turn, the patient may contact a lawyer to investigate the care that you rendered.

Key Points

To effectively prosecute a case of medical malpractice because of a delayed or missed diagnosis of breast cancer, it is not unusual for a plaintiff's attorney to retain an ob/gyn expert to testify that the defendant physician breached the standard of care, a pathologist to stage the patient's cancer (not just at the time of diagnosis but at the earlier point in time when the patient claims the diagnosis should have been made), and an oncologist to support the claim that the patient would have had a better prognosis and quality of life had the cancer been diagnosed at that earlier point in time.

Because medical malpractice cases alleging a delayed diagnosis of breast cancer are expensive to pursue, most good plaintiffs' lawyers will not jump into such a case until they feel confident that the potential return is worth their investment. The goal of this article is to help you practice in a way that will motivate a patient's attorney not to sue you.

The best way to successfully minimize malpractice litigation is through a combination of good clinical practice and thorough, meticulous documentation in your patients' medical records.

When screening a potential malpractice case, an attorney usually has only 2 sources of information: the patient's version of events, generally based on the patient's or family members' recollections and memories, and your medical records. As a general rule, recollections and memories of the patient and family are woefully inadequate to allow evaluation of medical care. Experienced plaintiffs' attorneys will look to the medical record as a more accurate source of information to help decide whether to take a case. A well-written medical record not only helps you if you are sued, but more important, it will help you avoid getting sued in the first place.

One reason so much litigation flows from medical care is that a key element to any good (ie, lucrative) plaintiff's lawsuit is a plaintiff with significant personal injuries. Because almost every practicing physician provides care to patients with significant personal injuries, it is only natural that, more than any other group, physicians are repeatedly targeted as potential defendants in medical personal injury litigation. Especially where there is the potential for a significant settlement or damages award, an attorney's review may not be to determine whether the patient received good or bad medical care, but to evaluate what evidence (or lack of evidence) exists to allow a case of malpractice to be made against you.