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Wrightsville Beach Personal Injury Law Blog

Electronic health records and medical errors

When patients enter North Carolina hospitals, it is likely that their medical records are accessed by computers. The days of physical file folders and filing cabinets are quickly giving way to electronic health records (EHR). It is estimated that only 4 percent of hospitals in the United States have not made the switch to EHR. However, these systems aren't perfect. A recent analysis of malpractice claims revealed that the percentage of EHR-related patient injuries has risen sharply in the past decade.

According to the research conducted by a physician-owned malpractice insurer, there were only two medical malpractice claims involving EHR in the period from 2007 to 2010. From 2011 to 2016, however, the number jumped to 161.

Some common skin conditions are easily misdiagnosed

North Carolina readers may have heard that medical misdiagnoses are a major problem in the U.S. However, it isn't always a medical professional who is to blame for the error. There are times when a patient may attempt to diagnose themselves and end up doing more harm than good. This is particularly true with skin conditions.

One of the most commonly misdiagnosed skin conditions among patients is basal cell carcinoma. Patients will often find a small pink bump on their skin and wrongly assume that it's acne or a rash. It's not until the spot has been growing and/or bleeding for some time that a patient will seek medical advice. This delay can allow the cancer to get worse. Therefore, experts recommend that patients make a doctor's appointment for any new bump, spot or mole that has been present for three or more weeks and is bleeding or growing.

Diagnosing cardiomyopathy

When a North Carolina resident has cardiomyopathy, they essentially have a heart that becomes enlarged, thick or rigid. As the condition continues to worsen, the heart has an increasingly more difficult time pumping enough blood to the body and maintaining a normal rhythm. While many patients never experience signs or symptoms of cardiomyopathy, others do.

Some patients do not experience the signs of cardiomyopathy until after the heart has already begun to weaken. The signs can include shortness of breath and trouble breathing, fatigue and swelling in the legs, abdomen and neck. A person who has an enlarged heart may also experience dizziness, fainting, arrhythmias and chest pain. The condition is usually diagnosed after a physical exam and diagnostic testing.

Diabetes cases may be misdiagnosed

Most people in North Carolina and elsewhere may be aware of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 occurs when the body kills its own insulin while type 2 occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin. However, there is a third type of diabetes that may be caused by damage to the pancreas. This type of diabetes may be misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes in some patients. A misdiagnosis may require a patient to spend time and money on treatments that may not work.

Side effects of those treatments could create more harm. A study by a University of Surry researcher published in Diabetes Care looked at 30,000 adults who had diabetes and found that 559 cases had occurred after a patient had pancreatic disease. However, only 3 percent of those cases resulted in a type 3c diagnosis. Another 88 percent of patients had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Study examines medication liability claims

North Carolina patients who are prescribed opioids or anticoagulants may be at a greater risk of a medical error than those who take other types of medications. According to a study by the insurer Coverys, around one-quarter of liability claims were related to opioids while 16 percent were related to anticoagulants. In 15 percent of cases, there were opioid claims along with allegations of inappropriate physician behavior.

The insurer examined over 10,000 liability claims for the years 2012 to 2016. Medication came in fourth place as a reason for liability claims with claims related to diagnosis, surgery and medical management ahead of it.

Race may play role in breast cancer survival rates

According to a report from the American Cancer Society, the death rates for women with breast cancer have come down in recent years overall. However, not all patients in North Carolina or elsewhere face the same outcomes. White women have a 39 percent greater chance of surviving breast cancer than black women based on data from 2015. Similar differences in patient outcomes between white and black patients were observed in the 1980s.

However, it was also determined that Asians, native Americans and Hispanic women have the lowest rates of breast cancer. This may be partially because race may influence the type of tumor that a woman gets. Black women are most likely to get triple negative cancer, which may be more difficult to treat compared to the HR+/HER2- tumors that white patients may be more likely to get.

Injuries to the sacral spinal cord

When North Carolina residents become involved in car crashes, they are sometimes at risks for suffering injuries to their spinal cord. The functions that are affected will vary depending on where the injury occurred. For example, sacral spinal cord injuries often have an impact on the hips, groin and perineal areas of the body.

The sacrum is made up of four vertebrae that have been fused together plus the coccyx, or tailbone. The bones are numbers S-1 to S-5. Even though they are fused, each section is responsible for controlling different areas of the body. In general, an injury to the spinal cord in the sacrum could result in a loss of function in the legs and hips. Further, those who were injured may also experience a loss of control over their bladder and bowels. Even so, they often still retain the ability to walk.

How patients can get better care from doctors

North Carolina doctors may not be spending as much time with their patients as the patients would like. However, representatives from Saint Vincent's Healthcare and Billings Clinic have suggestions for how patients can get the most from an appointment. Ideally, patients will stick to talking about the symptoms that led them to see a doctor in the first place. As a general rule, it may be best to stick to two problems per appointment.

Those who have more than two health issues may be better served by asking for an additional appointment to discuss those concerns. It may also be a good idea for patients to stay vigilant about voicing concerns about their health. If a doctor does not take those concerns seriously, it may be a good idea to start looking for another physician to talk to.

Failing to diagnose macular degeneration

North Carolina residents may be interested to learn that, according to a study, about 25 percent of age-related macular degeneration is missed by eye care professionals. Because this condition can result in a loss of eyesight, failing to diagnose AMD can have serious implications for older adults who are at risk for developing it.

AMD often results in irreversible vision loss for those who are at or over 50 years of age. The condition reportedly affects 14 million individuals in the U.S. Although there is no cure for AMD, there are ways doctors can slow down the progression of the condition. Treatments often can include certain vitamins and minerals and an injectable anti-VEGF medication that reduces the size of abnormally large blood vessels.

Revealing private health info could be considered malpractice

Some New Jersey residents may be interested in learning about whether it constitutes malpractice to disclose information about a person's HIV status. Although medical errors are commonly understood to be forms of malpractice, not everyone is aware that revealing private information without consent can also be an act of misconduct. In general, patients enjoy a right to privacy concerning their medical information that doctors are legally required to respect.

A court recently found that a physician had indeed committed malpractice by revealing confidential information about a patient's HIV status to an unauthorized third party. Sources say that the patient was being treated for kidney failure by the physician in question when the incident occurred. In the course of a consultation regarding the disease, the doctor told someone else in the room that the patient was HIV-positive. The court that heard the case found this to be a violation of the AIDS Assistance Act.

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