Orthopedic specialists and surgeons are a part of a specialized area of medicine that deal directly with the musculoskeletal aspect of the human anatomy. Just put these expert deal with bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Like any other specified area of medicine, orthopedic medicine is not immune to error and misdiagnosis.
Error and Misdiagnosis in Orthopedic Medicine
There are multitudinous causes for orthopedic malpractice injuries. One form of orthopedic malpractice is the misdiagnosis, which is caused when an orthopedic specialist fails to order the appropriate x-rays to provide the necessary data to effectively diagnose the case. There are times when the doctor will order tests and x-rays, but they will misinterpret the results. This type of failure in the medical protocol can end up leaving the patient with a misdiagnosis, meaning that they will not receive the proper treatment and rehabilitation. In other instances, the patient may end up with an undiagnosed skeletal fracture.
When even a minor injury is not diagnosed correctly, it can lead to major complications that would be considered preventable. Something as simple has a hairline fracture has the potential to evolve into a more serious complication that may even require surgery.
When an orthopedic surgeon makes a mistake or misdiagnoses a patient, the consequences can range from unnecessary pain and suffering of the patient to permanent disability.
Some examples of misdiagnoses and errors in orthopedic medicine are:
- A slipped capital femoral epiphysis — an injury that does not cause a lot of pain, leading to common misdiagnosis of the symptoms it presents
- Achilles tendon injuries have a significant rate of misdiagnosis, with 25 percent of these injuries being initially missed by the physician.
- Anterior cruciate ligament tears are commonly misdiagnosed as injuries to other knee ligaments.
- Premature wrist arthrosis can result from a delayed diagnosis of scaphoid fractures.
- Failure to diagnose and treat femoral neck stress fractures can lead to re-fracture or avascular necrosis.
Current Malpractice Statistics
As recent as 2010, orthopedic surgery ranked fifth among medical specialties in two categories — the number of lawsuits filed and the number complaints that results in monetary payout to the plaintiff. The most common complaints against this medical specialty group are:
- Ineffective or improper performance during surgery makes up 50 percent of the complaints
- Misdiagnosis accounts for 14 percent of the cases
- The inability to adequately recognize complications during the treatment process accounts for 8 percent of the claims.
- Failure to adequately monitor or supervise the case make up six percent of the cases
- Other miscellaneous causes make up the remaining 20 percent of claims.
Taking the Proper Steps to Prevent Mistakes
According to a recent report published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there is a need for more educational and professional programs that will increase the awareness of the risks that are associated with orthopedic malpractice. The report further asserts that it is necessary to identify the problematic issues that lead to malpractice.
Additionally, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has stated that surgeons in this field of medicine have concrete steps that they can implement that will minimize the risk of misdiagnosis and other mistakes that lead to malpractice cases.
The AAOS asserts that physicians specializing in orthopedic medicine should:
- Increase their level and frequency of communication with patients
- Refrain from the altering of records
- Take the time to document discussions concerning risks associated with therapy and treatment
- Update all documentation and post-operative notations on a regular basis.
According to a report by the National Institute of Health, the lumbar spine was the most common area associated with orthopedic medical malpractice. It asserts that the primary cause of these errors were physicians appearing to be rushed or those who seem to be uninterested.