Medical negligence, also known as medical malpractice, is not always the result of a healthcare provider’s action – sometimes medical negligence occurs when a healthcare provider fails to act. When a physician, nurse practitioner, nurse, or other medical provider does not appropriately follow up with a patient after a medical procedure, test, consultation, or other such appointment, the healthcare provider, and its employer, could be held legally responsible for medical negligence, and financially responsible for the physical, emotional, and financial harm that they caused as a result of that failure. A medical malpractice attorney can advise you on your legal rights to compensation, and help you to stand up to powerful healthcare systems and their insurers.
When is a failure to follow up in medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a medical provider’s care falls below the required standard of care, and that error causes harm to the patient. Healthcare providers have a duty to follow up with their patient in many situations involving test results. For example, if a patient’s MRI reveals cancerous tumors, the physician must follow up with that patient to inform them of the findings, and make a plan for further evaluation or treatment.
A failure to follow up can be the fault of an individual physician, but it can also involve more than one medical provider, or an entire system. Sometimes a failure to follow up is the result of inadequate record-keeping, a breakdown in communications, or human error by non-medical staff. When a healthcare provider has an obligation to follow up with a patient and fails to do so, that healthcare provider may have breached a legal duty to the patient and may be liable for the harm that results.
What harm can result from a healthcare provider’s failure to follow up?
When a medical provider fails to follow up with a patient, the consequences will depend on the individual patient’s circumstances, but they can be severe, and in some cases fatal. In cancer cases particularly, any delay in following up with a patient can allow the disease to progress, which can significantly reduce a patient’s chance of successfully treating their disease. The delay can also cause the patient to undergo more difficult treatments than would have been required if their cancer had been treated at an earlier stage.
In our own practice, we have seen patients suffer catastrophic injuries as a result of a medical provider’s failure to follow up with a patient, including:
- More severe symptoms
- Chronic pain
- Disease progression
- Metastasis of cancer
- Increased risk of infection
- Emotional trauma
- Permanent disability
- More invasive and prolonged treatments
- Increased medical expenses
- Reduced life expectancy
- Loss of chance of curing the disease
What are examples of a medical provider’s failure to follow up?
A failure to follow up can occur at any stage of a patient’s care. Some common examples of a failure to follow up relate to:
Test results: When a physician orders any diagnostic or screening tests including imaging, blood tests, or a urinalysis, the doctor or the doctor’s office should follow up with the patient regarding the results of these tests. X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, biopsies, pap smear tests, and mammograms are all examples of tests for which the results should be reported to the patient. Likewise, blood work can reveal a concerning issue that may require follow-up testing. If a problem is detected on any type of test and not reported to the patient, the condition may go untreated and result in increased harm and risk to you.
Failure to order tests: Sometimes a physician fails to follow up by not ordering tests in the first place. If a patient has unexplained symptoms, the physician should follow up in the patient’s care to investigate and diagnose the issue, or refer them to another physician. Likewise, if the patient has been referred to a doctor for a test or evaluation, the new doctor should perform the necessary assessments, including tests, to address the referring doctor’s concerns. For example, if a physician learns that a patient has been having staring spells or blank episodes that could be absence seizures, they should investigate it, not ignore it, and likely make a referral to a neurologist.
Post surgery care: After a surgical procedure, the patient may need pain medication, dressing changes, and evaluation for healing and wound infection. The surgeon or the surgical team must follow up with the patient to provide the postoperative care required to make sure that the patient is healing appropriately.
Referrals/Consultations: If a physician refers a patient to, or requests a consult from, another physician, but fails to follow up on the referral or consult, he or she may be liable for medical malpractice. For example, often a patient in the emergency room (E.R.) needs to see a specialist doctor, so the E.R. physician requests a consult from the specialist. If the E.R. doctor does not place the order correctly, or if the consulting doctor fails to appear in a reasonable time (or at all), there may be negligence for a failure to follow up.
Failure to return calls: Many doctors’ offices and health systems have a system which allows patients to leave a message for callback, send a message through an electronic portal, or speak to a triage nurse who will advise you or arrange for the doctor to call you back. You may be calling because you are experiencing chest pains, have a fever after a surgical procedure, are pregnant and bleeding, or have another concern. If you never receive that callback, and as a result you do not get the medical care you need on time, the doctor, nurse, or clinic may be liable for a negligent failure to follow up if you are harmed.
You may have encountered problems in your medical care that are not listed here but still amount to medical negligence. If you have any concerns that a healthcare professional failed to follow up when he or she should have, you should discuss your experience with an attorney to find out what your legal rights are.
How do you prove medical negligence for a failure to follow up?
In a medical negligence claim, you must prove that the healthcare provider owed you a duty of care, breached that duty, and that the breach of duty caused you harm. In a failure to follow up claim specifically, you will have to show that the healthcare provider was required to follow up with you, that the healthcare provider failed to do so, and that you suffered harm because of that.
Your attorneys will review all of the evidence in your case, and if there was a failure to follow up, they will hire medical experts to analyze the facts and testify as to how your care should have been handled. It is crucial to the success of your case to have reputable medical experts who understand the details of your case, and who can explain to a jury how you should have been treated, and how you were harmed because you were not.
Why choose Morris James to represent you?
A medical malpractice case can be legally and medically complex, and the patient is often pitted against healthcare systems and insurers with vast resources who do not easily give up. Our medical malpractice attorneys previously defended healthcare providers for many years in these types of cases, and they know the strategies used against injured patients and how to overcome them. Now, our medical malpractice lawyers use their experience and skills to advocate for you in settlement negotiations and at trial to get you the maximum compensation that you deserve for your injury.
At Morris James, our attorneys have been protecting our clients’ legal rights since we opened our doors in 1932. If you or a loved one has been injured because of a healthcare professional’s failure to follow up, contact us online or call 302.888.6857 to find out more.