Timing can mean everything in medical care. Getting a diagnosis too late, waiting too long to get an appointment, or delayed treatment in the emergency room can mean the difference between life and death. When the patient finds out that the delays were unnecessary and caused by negligence, it can be devastating.
It may take time to get treatment or test results. However, when the delays are caused by a doctor dropping the ball, administrative delays at the hospital, or a healthcare worker forgetting to update a patient’s chart, it can be negligence. When a medical delay is caused by failure to follow the standards of medical care and it causes an injury to the patient, it can be malpractice.
It can be difficult to know if a delay is just a matter of course or was caused by medical malpractice. If you want to know if you have a case and how much you can recover in compensation, talk to experienced trial attorneys about your case. Your medical malpractice law firm can help you understand your options and help you recover money for your injuries.
Why Are There Delays in Medical Care?
There may be lots of reasons why medical care is delayed. In some cases, delays are unnecessary and even negligent. Doctors and hospitals have a duty to provide a certain standard of care to patients. If the delays were unreasonable, reckless, or deviated from the standards of practice, it could represent negligence and medical malpractice. Some possible causes of delays in healthcare include:
- Cost-cutting measures
- Handoff errors
- Medical misdiagnosis
- Improper categorization of urgency
Delays in Testing
There are many types of tests and diagnostic analyses that patients undergo in everyday care. Common testing and diagnostic include:
- Blood tests
- Urine testing
- Stool samples
- DNA testing
- CT scans
- Abdominal taps
- Allergy skin tests
- Antibody tests
The results of these tests can be important for patient care and medical diagnosis. Delays in taking the test, analyzing the tests, and communicating the test results can unnecessarily delay patient care and treatment.
Understaffing Problems and Delays
Lack of staffing is an issue in many industries. However, there is a big difference between not having enough workers to staff a fast-food restaurant and not having enough registered nurses in a nursing home. When hospitals and residential care facilities do not have enough staff, it can increase the risk of injuries. Patients may wait longer than appropriate for monitoring, treatment, and even for routine cleaning and going to the bathroom.
For example, patients who are bedbound can develop pressure ulcers, known as bed sores, when they are sedentary in the same position for too long. Bedbound patients are generally moved or turned a few times a day. These patients may also require regular cleaning and changing of diapers. When there are delays in care, it can increase the risk of developing ulcers that can become infected. Skin that is not properly cleaned or dried can also cause infections to develop and spread, leaving the patients suffering pain and discomfort.
The cause of understaffing is often because of cost-cutting measures of the hospital administration. Healthcare in the U.S. is big business. Care is moving towards seeing as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, to increase profits. Profits can come at the expense of patient care. Hospitals may not hire or train enough qualified staff to provide the proper level of care for patients.
In some cases, facilities are providing fewer staff than is required by federal laws for residential care facilities. For example, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), federal law requires Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes to provide enough 24-hour licensed nursing services to meet the nursing needs of patients, including using a registered professional nurse for at least 8 hours a day, seven days a week.
Processing Backlogs and Delayed Test Results
Healthcare centers use many different types of diagnostic tests for patients. Depending on the facility, these diagnostic tests may be handled in-house or sent to other facilities for processing. The amount of time it takes to get these test results can vary depending on the time of day, type of facility, and urgency of care.
For example, an X-ray or lab test that is taken during regular business hours and processed at the facility could have results back in a matter of minutes or hours. For non-urgent patients, they may have to wait 2 weeks or longer to even get an appointment for x-rays or lab tests. Then, it could take up to 2 weeks to have the tests reviewed and the patient may even have to make another appointment just to get their results. Even regular wait times can be extended if the care provider determines that waiting longer will not be detrimental to the patient’s health.
There are also situations where a backlog is expected, such as testing during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early stages, there were not even tests available to screen a patient for coronavirus. After the tests were first developed, they were difficult to get and could take days or longer before patients got their test results. However, after a year or more, take-home tests became readily available to give results within minutes. Even more accurate COVID-19 tests were generally processed in hours or within a couple of days.
Testing result delays that are caused by improper handling of the diagnostic samples, understaffing, or failure to timely provide test results can result in unnecessary harm and injury for patients. A patient who got sick because their doctor didn’t get their test results fast enough may be a victim of medical malpractice.
Cancer Testing Delays
Cancer test results can be some of the most concerning for patients. For many people, a cancer diagnosis sounds like a death sentence and they want to know the results of their tests as soon as possible. Unfortunately, some patients have to wait days before they know their results.
According to the American Cancer Society, there may be technical reasons for delays in reporting test results. Processing certain types of body tissue can take longer than others, including bone, hard tissue, whole organ, and fatty tissue tests. Other reasons for delays may include a pathologist wanting to get a second opinion or consult a specialist to make a determination.
Handoff Errors and Communication Delays
Even worse than just a delay can occur when a provider totally drops the ball and the patient never finds out about very important information because of a communication problem. Communication delays can happen during “hand-off” procedures. A hand-off is the process of transferring and accepting responsibility for a patient between providers. The providers communicate key patient data as a way to maintain consistent and safe care.
At a minimum, certain information should be shared to communicate patient status and updates, including medication, lab testing data, and plan of care summary. However, many doctors are subject to interruptions during care and hand-overs. These interruptions can negatively impact patient care, and even result in failure to communicate important test results to the next provider on duty.
According to the Joint Commission, “A common problem regarding hand-offs, or hand-overs, centers on communication: expectations can be out of balance between the sender of the information and the receiver. This misalignment is where the problem often occurs in hand-off communication.”
A recommendation was made to support the use of online patient portals, “especially for medical record access, prescription refills, lab and diagnostic results reviews, and appointment making.”
Misdiagnosis and Improper Testing
Delays in testing and test results may occur when the patient is misdiagnosed in the first place. A misdiagnosis can be dangerous because it not only delays diagnosis of the proper condition but the patient may be subject to unnecessary and risky treatments that are not needed.
For example, if a patient comes in with complaints that should alert a doctor to the possibility of a stroke but the doctor tells the patient they need to reduce stress, get more sleep, and eat healthier, it does nothing to treat a dangerous problem in the brain and delays testing that can help the patient avoid a dangerous or deadly injury.
According to researchers with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a review of data from diagnostic error records identified commonly misdiagnosed conditions that accounted for almost half of serious, misdiagnosis-related injuries. The main types of diagnostic errors leading to death or serious, permanent disability included:
- Misdiagnosed cancer (37.8%)
- Vascular events (22.8%)
- Infections (13.5%)
Urgent or Non-Urgent Wait Times
A lot of the timing for treatment, appointments, and test results depends on the status of the patient. For urgent care, patients may get the care they need more quickly. You may be familiar with doctors referring to things as “stat,” from the Latin statim, meaning at once or immediately. For non-urgent patients, care can take much longer.
However, who decides which patients need urgent care and which are non-urgent? In some cases, it may not be the doctor who decides but an administrator who categorizes patients based on some standardized questions. When the doctor does categorize patients as urgent or non-urgent, they can make mistakes. A mistake about the urgency of care for a patient can be costly.
For example, if a patient calls up their health provider and says they are experiencing stomach pain, the provider may say to make an appointment, and if it gets worse to go to the ER. If the patient calls to complain of chest pain, they will generally be seen immediately because chest pain can be an indicator of a heart attack. However, not all heart attack patients experience the same symptoms. In some patients, a heart attack can present with stomach pain or even indigestion-like symptoms.
Do You Have a Malpractice Claim for Delayed Care?
- Breach of care
Doctors have a duty of care to their patients to act as a reasonable medical professional in that situation. Was there a doctor-patient relationship between the doctor and the patient who received delayed care? The breach of care is based on the standards of medical practice. To be malpractice, the doctor must deviate from the standards of care, by doing something (or failing to do something) different than another doctor would under similar circumstances.
The breach of care has to cause an injury or harm. If there was delayed care but the patient wasn’t injured, it may be bad medical care but not necessarily malpractice. Finally, the deviation from standard care that caused the accident must result in injury or harm. The injury does not necessarily have to be severe or permanent. However, the extent of the injury generally relates to how much the injury victim receives in damages.
For example, if a doctor didn’t give you test results quickly enough and you got sick, missing work for a week, your damages may include a week of lost wages and any additional medical treatment required. However, if delayed care led to a serious infection which caused permanent disability, the damages may be much greater, including loss of income, pain and suffering, medical bills, and even future medical care.
Whether a medical error is malpractice can be a complex issue. An experienced medical malpractice law firm understands medical malpractice law and can help determine whether you have a case against the doctors, hospitals, and other medical care providers.
How Can I Get Help After a Medical Delay Injury?
If you were dismissed by your doctor or ignored by the hospital and suffered an injury, do not wait around for the medical industry to do the right thing. You have to act if you want to protect yourself and your family. A medical malpractice lawsuit can make the negligent doctors sit up and take notice. A malpractice claim can also help you recover money to pay for your additional medical costs, loss of income, and compensate you for unnecessary suffering.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney will help evaluate your claim, explain your options, and fight to get you the maximum compensation available for your injuries. If you want to know about your legal options, contact an experienced legal defense team for a case evaluation. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.