Physician Sued by Noncompliant Patient After Failing to Follow Up on Test

Dr G was sorry about his patient’s outcome but blamed it primarily on the patient’s own actions – continuing to smoke and not following up on tests and appointments.

The patient, however, blamed it completely on the physician, and hired a plaintiff’s attorney to file a lawsuit against Dr G. The allegations against the physician included failure to diagnose cancer in a timely manner and failure to refer and treat in a timely manner.  

Dr G met with his defense attorney who requested all of the patient’s records so that the attorney’s medical experts could look them over.

The attorney questioned Dr G about whether he had looked at Mr C’s x-ray from the second ED visit.

“You don’t understand how busy my practice is,” replied the physician. “I don’t have time to review every report sent to my office. We get reports coming in all the time.”

The attorney asked him whether there was a system set up to give the responsibility for reviewing reports to a staff member, perhaps his nurse, with guidelines to bring abnormal results to the doctor’s attention. Dr G admitted there was no such system in place.

After a thorough review of the evidence by the defense attorney’s medical experts, the attorney advised Dr G to settle the case out of court, which he did for an amount within his malpractice insurance limits.

Legal Background

In Dr G’s defense, the experts agreed that causation would be difficult to prove due to the noncompliant nature of the patient. Even if Dr G was negligent, said the experts, it was unlikely that a diagnosis made several months earlier would have made a difference in treatment or prognosis, and thus it would be hard for Mr C to prove that the negligence had caused his harm.

However, the experts all faulted Dr G for failing to meet the standard of care with regard to timely follow up on test results, and aggressive action to confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis. The experts were particularly dismayed that Dr G’s practice had no protocol to ensure that all patient test reports are reviewed. Due to the uncertainty of a jury trial, it was recommended that the case be settled.