A 34-year-old mother of three died from pneumonia that was not diagnosed until she was too sick to be saved. She made three visits to an emergency room over four days with “flu-like symptoms,” but was sent home the first two times. On the third visit, she was admitted to the hospital and treatment for pneumonia was finally started. It was too late. She died from severe sepsis that could have been prevented with a proper diagnosis and treatment. After eight years of litigation, a jury awarded her family $21.5 million for their loss. Experts testified that with the correct diagnosis and treatment, she would have fully recovered from her pneumonia within just a few days.
A 10-year-old girl was sent home late at night from an urgent care when the doctor said she only had the flu. She was rushed to the hospital the following morning where she died in the emergency room. Dead from untreated pneumonia. A death that experts said should have not happened. These are only two examples of hundreds of cases of pneumonia each year that are not properly diagnosed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pneumonia every year. Most of them are adults. More than 50,000 die from the disease.
As of 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) listed pneumonia as the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. The American Thoracic Society says that a diagnosis of pneumonia is the most common reason for adult hospital admissions other than women being admitted to give birth.
Misdiagnosis When Patient is Suffering From Pneumonia
According to the Mayo Clinic, pneumonia is “an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing.” It can range from a mild case to one that is life-threatening.
Other symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills.
- Some people, particularly those over the age of 65, have a lower than normal body temperature.
- General fatigue.
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
If fever is higher than 102 degrees in adults, and the person has chest pain or is coughing up mucus or pus, they should seek medical care. Even then, doctors often misdiagnose pneumonia, confusing it with other diseases, particularly the common flu.
When people die from a doctor’s failure to diagnose pneumonia, it is more than tragic and most often unnecessary. The proper diagnosis should not be difficult if appropriate diagnostic tests are performed.
Required Diagnostic Tests When Patients Seek Care Due to Their Flu-like Symptoms
If you go to an Urgent Care, Emergency Room or to your primary care doctor, or accompany someone you love to one of those care facilities, and you or your loved one has flu-like symptoms that could indicate pneumonia, insist that the following medical tests be performed.
- Blood tests. These will not show specifically that you or your loved one has pneumonia, but results will confirm if there is an infection somewhere in the system.
- Chest X-ray. This can confirm that the person has pneumonia and the extent of the disease. It will not identify the specific organism that is causing the pneumonia.
- Pulse oximetry. This measures the oxygen level in the bloodstream and can tell if there is a problem, such as pneumonia, that is preventing the lungs from moving a sufficient level of oxygen through the blood stream.
- Sputum test. This takes a sample of fluid that has accumulated in the lungs and tests it to determine the cause of the lung infection. It is performed simply by having the patient provide a sputum sample after a deep cough.
Except for the minimally invasive blood test, all other tests are noninvasive. In both of the examples given, the lives could have been saved if even a simple chest X-ray had been performed on the patients and the existence of pneumonia been discovered.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Based on Failure to Diagnose
A recent study published by John Hopkins identified medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Another scientific study released in 2015 found that, “It is likely that most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.”
There are certain elements you must prove in order to win your medical malpractice claim, whether you are seeking damages for your own suffering due to the delayed diagnosis or damages for the wrongful death of a loved one due to the failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis.
If you suffered due to the failure to diagnose your pneumonia, or someone you love died due to a failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, contact the Law Offices of Ivan M. Diamond for a free case evaluation. Our office is located in the Bronx and we serve all five boroughs of New York City. If you cannot come to us, we can arrange to come to you. Contact us today.