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By Richard B. Schwamm.

The annual check-up is the time when patients can see their physician and discuss the need preventative care services such as screening tests, x-rays, and other tests that may detect early signs of serious illness. The “failure of preventative care” occurs when routine or well-known standards of practice are not followed because the physician misunderstands the patient’s risk factors, fails to recommend necessary treatment or fails to order the right tests.

A Rise in Preventative Care Malpractice Cases

Due to the aging population, rising health care costs, etc., there has been an increased emphasis on preventative care services. As a result, the types and frequency of recommended preventative services has also increased. For example, in 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the age group from 55 to 50 for recommended lung cancer screenings for certain individuals. The goal is obvious – to prevent serious illness.

In the past, preventative healthcare was traditionally provided by internal medicine and family medicine physicians. But there has been a rise in the participation of mid-level providers (physician assistants and nurse practitioners) when it comes to administering health care services. The rise in the number of preventative care medical malpractice cases can be traced back, in part, to situations where the physicians put the care of patients (with high risk factors or complicated medical histories) into the hands of mid-level providers, who may not have the required level of experience or expertise to identify what treatment or testing is needed.

Common Preventative Care Services

  1. Tests (Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, Diabetes, etc.)

The American Heart Association recommends certain screening tests for coronary artery disease beginning at age 20. Most of us think these tests are obvious and should be done routinely. When they are not, patients with high blood pressure, high blood sugars and high cholesterols are at risk for serious illness.

  1. Cancer screenings (Mammograms, Prostate Exams, etc.)

Screenings for colon cancer are currently recommended to start at age 45 or younger if a patient is high risk. Failures by physicians to recommend the annual appropriate cancer screening(s) may be considered medical malpractice since it potentially deprives the patient of an early diagnosis and successful treatment.

  1. Vaccines (Child Immunizations, Shingles, etc.)

Vaccines save the lives of roughly 42,000 children on an annual basis. For children, immunizations are the most well-known type of preventative care, whether it’s for Hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, measles, mumps or Rubella.

Adults who are 50 years or older should get a Shingles vaccine. Posters at local pharmacies and commercials on TV have led to an improved understanding of the Shingles virus. However, concerns that most adults are not being properly educated remain. In one very recent case our firm handled, the physician failed to provide Shingles vaccine education and recommendations to a patient over the age of 50. Unfortunately, the patient developed Shingles and the severe complications from it, including facial paralysis and hearing loss. The failure of the physician and mid-level providers led to a lawsuit and significant settlement.

Key Takeaways

It is up to the patient to be their best advocate. But when physicians fail to properly administer preventative care per currently recommended guidelines, or are not directly involved in patient care, mistakes can happen. Consulting with an attorney who is familiar with these types of medical errors can assist in determining whether malpractice has occurred. If you are dealing with a medical malpractice case (preventative care-related or otherwise) and would like to discuss your options, please contact Richard Schwamm, or any other member of our Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm legal team.