For many people, there are few things more frightening than a trip to the emergency room because it means that something is seriously wrong and needs to be addressed immediately. Most of the time, the doctors, nurses, and support staff working in emergency rooms do a great job of diagnosing and treating patients. Whether in an emergency situation or a visit to your general practitioner, all healthcare providers have an obligation to know the signs, recognize life-threatening situations, and be prepared to promptly treat the issue. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and if the issue is a heart attack, a misdiagnosis could be traumatic if not deadly.
If you or a loved one has been impacted by a misdiagnosis of a heart attack, it is important to understand your legal rights to recovery. You may be entitled to compensation for the physical, mental, and financial harm that has occurred.
Is a Misdiagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?
Misdiagnosis of medical conditions is the basis of many medical malpractice lawsuits, but a misdiagnosis on its own may not constitute malpractice. Healthcare providers owe their patients a specific duty to act in a way that a healthcare provider with similar education and training would act in that same situation. If their actions were unreasonable to other medical professionals (rather than an average person), they may be liable for medical malpractice.
Who Is Liable for a Heart Attack Misdiagnosis?
There are many factors that could lead to a misdiagnosis of heart attacks. Healthcare providers who are rushed or overworked may not listen carefully to a patient’s complaints, which can lead to mistakes in their assessment of the situation. In other situations, patients may not provide enough information. That being said, it is a healthcare provider’s responsibility to ask the right questions for the situation. Misread or incorrect diagnostics, or lack of diagnostics may also contribute to a misdiagnosis. Depending on the situation, here are some of the individuals and parties who may be liable for heart attack misdiagnosis.
- Emergency room doctor,
- General practitioner,
- Registered nurse,
- Certified nursing assistant,
- Nurse practitioner,
- Hospital administrative personnel,
- Hospital or other medical facility, or
- Diagnostic laboratory.
In some cases, there may be multiple liable parties. Your medical malpractice lawyer can conduct an independent investigation into your claim to determine who is responsible for the heart attack misdiagnosis.
4 Common Reasons Heart Attacks Can Be Misdiagnosed
There are many ways that misdiagnosis occurs. It is important to evaluate everything that happened before and after the heart attack to have the best understanding of how it went undetected by your healthcare provider. In many cases, patients are not in the throes of an active heart attack at the time symptoms originally present, though that does not make diagnosis less crucial. Here are 4 common reasons heart attacks can be misdiagnosed.
1. Minor or Atypical Symptoms
Not all heart attacks dramatically present themselves. Minor symptoms may not appear life-threatening, in which case, a healthcare provider may fail to test for cardiac issues. In other cases, heart attack symptoms may present atypical symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, indigestion, back pain, fatigue, or other signs that may also be associated with several other potential conditions. This could lead a healthcare provider to dismiss the symptoms as minor, thus failing to address the seriousness of the condition despite the presence of applicable symptoms.
2. Incomplete Medical History or Patient Information
Healthcare providers must be fully informed in order to make the best possible decisions for their patients. Inaccurate or incomplete medical records can make a big difference in how a provider views the health of a patient. In some situations, patient records may be incomplete or incorrect due to clerical mistakes. Having insight into a patient's medical and lifestyle history can provide crucial risk indicators. Some examples include age, gender, weight, tobacco use, activity level, existing medical conditions, and any known heart complications or complications from family members. This information can make a difference in the treatment or diagnostics a healthcare provider recommends and is the responsibility of the healthcare provider to obtain.
3. Diagnostic Errors
Misinterpretation of test results (such as ECG/EKG, blood tests for cardiac enzymes like troponin), or errors in imaging tests (angiograms, echocardiograms) can lead to misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a heart attack accurately. Diagnostics are generally ordered by the attending physician, but tests often are conducted by specialized technicians or third-party diagnostic facilities. Errors in the results could be attributed to equipment malfunctions, improper use of diagnostic equipment, and recording errors.
4. Pre-existing Conditions
Patients with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, which can affect nerve function and perception of pain, panic attacks, acid reflux, and other conditions may experience these familiar symptoms during a heart attack. The possibility of a heart attack may be overlooked or attributed to other health issues, leading to a misdiagnosis and serious harm if not closely examined. Though pre-existing conditions should be taken into consideration when evaluating a patient, the symptoms should also be addressed on their own merit.
What to Do If Your Heart Attack Was Misdiagnosed
If you did not receive timely and appropriate treatment because of a misdiagnosis of heart attacks, there are several steps you can take to give yourself the best chance at a successful medical malpractice claim and meaningful compensation.
- Do not confront your healthcare provider and tell them you are filing a malpractice claim;
- Find a new provider to continue your medical care;
- Follow the advice of your new healthcare provider;
- Obtain all of your medical records from your previous provider;
- Keep all documentation of expenses incurred because of the misdiagnosis;
- Do not post on social media or review sites about your experience with your provider or the misdiagnosis; and
- Consult a medical malpractice attorney as soon as reasonably possible.
It is important that you do not take matters into your own hands with the misdiagnosed healthcare provider or attempt to publicly defame them. These actions can hurt your claim and make it more difficult to receive the compensation you and your family need to heal and move forward.
A misdiagnosed heart attack can have serious implications. At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, we understand that you are likely going through a lot and choosing to file a medical malpractice claim is a big decision. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Our team of experienced attorneys understands the intricacies of New Jersey medical malpractice law and has secured multi-million dollar verdicts for our clients. Contact us to schedule your free case consultation.