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Diagnostic issues during the era of COVID: Is anyone to blame?

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

In our last post, we discussed the limits and liabilities of telemedicine. While online medical visits are convenient for patients and were a necessary protective measure during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they do have some significant limitations.

They do not work very well for diseases which share symptoms with many other diseases. Moreover, they don’t allow doctors to see patients up close and conduct an actual physical examination. Because of this, doctors can fail to diagnose or misdiagnose serious and deadly diseases like cancer. It is worth mentioning that failure to diagnose cancer is one of the most common allegations leading to medical malpractice litigation.

Cancer deaths may rise sharply because of pandemic

At various times throughout 2020 and 20201, hospitals have been overburdened with COVID-19 patients, taking away medical professionals and resources from other kinds of care. When the hospitals did have capacity, many patients still stayed away for fear of contracting the virus. These two factors have led to a serious drop in routine cancer screenings and will likely lead to more cancer deaths as a result. According to one estimate, pandemic-related drops in screening could be responsible for an additional 10,000 deaths over the next decade caused by colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

Would physicians be liable for problems caused by the pandemic?

In many cases, a patient with a delayed cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosis would have difficulty winning a malpractice case if the COVID-19 pandemic was primarily to blame. Choosing to forego medical check-ups because of your concern about the virus would be a personal choice. And lack of available medical care during the pandemic was something that, while tragic, was outside of anyone’s control.

Doctors could potentially be held liable for missed/delayed diagnosis in certain cases, however. If your doctor noticed a concerning test result or symptom but did not share that information with you, for instance, they may be considered liable for failing to properly follow up. This would be negligence because they failed to act on information that required further investigation – or at least proper disclosure to the patient.

The last couple years have tested our healthcare system and our society in ways that none of us expected. The long-term consequences of this time period may be felt for years to come, including the problems caused by a reduction in routine medical care and check-ups.