Bone fractures are often misdiagnosed in emergency rooms and other health care facilities, even when patients’ symptoms include pain, swelling and limited limb movement. Unfortunately, these misdiagnoses can have very serious consequences, since they delay treatment, which can result in increased pain, suffering and even permanent disability. Patients with untreated fractures may eventually require surgery to correct bone misalignment, but even then, the damage can be irreversible.
If your doctor or emergency room doctors failed to diagnose a bone fracture and you have been harmed because of the failure, you may be able to take legal action to hold them accountable. A Florida medical malpractice claim can hold health care providers liable for their negligence and help you obtain the compensation you need and deserve for your pain, suffering and losses.
What Causes Misdiagnosed Bone Fractures?
While some fractures may be difficult to see on radiography, such as X-rays, most should be obvious to well-trained radiologists. Research has shown, however, that the failure by doctors to interpret radiographs correctly is the main reason for diagnostic errors in emergency departments, with more than 79% of the errors being related to fractures in some ERs.
According to a 2018 study of missed diagnoses related to radiographs in the emergency room, there are four major causes for the missed diagnosis of fractures:
- Failure to communicate in an appropriate and timely manner – When doctors and other health care providers do not completely assess their patients’ conditions and communicate with them or adequately listen to them regarding their symptoms and complaints, doctors can miss the signs of a fracture and fail to order appropriate diagnostic radiographs and other imaging tests. At other times, the tests are ordered and radiologists, although seeing abnormalities, fail to adequately or accurately convey information about abnormal X-rays, MRI’s or CT scans, thereby preventing the patient from obtaining the correct treatment.
- Observer errors – Doctors examining an X-ray, for example, may not see a fracture or may not recognize an anomaly as a fracture.
- Errors in interpretation – Doctors may, for example, identify a fracture but believe it is an old injury.
- Failure to recommend an appropriate follow-up procedure – When doctors make diagnosis and treatment decisions based on one or even several x-rays, they may miss small, hidden or stress fractures. Other imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs, might be necessary for making accurate diagnoses.
More than one of these factors typically comes into play when fractures are not diagnosed correctly in emergency departments. Unfortunately, however, regardless of which factor or how many factors lead to the diagnostic error, injured patients are the ones who suffer the consequences. A retrospective analysis of missed diagnoses of fractures in an emergency department over two years showed, in fact, that 86% of the fracture-related diagnostic errors had consequences for treatment.
What Kinds of Fractures Are Often Missed on X-Rays?
A review of the literature on missed diagnosis of traumatic fractures in adults shows that standard X-rays can be unreliable in detecting different kinds of fractures, including:
- Cervical Fractures – Recognized by the American College of Radiology (ACR) as a fracture that is “easily missed,” potential cervical fractures require special attention and more sensitive imaging than radiography. When a clinical assessment indicates a potential cervical fracture, axial multidetector computed topography (MDCT) is recommended to adequately assess the entire spine.
- Thoraco-lumbar Spine Fractures – Standard X-ray images can be unreliable as a diagnostic tool for patients with multiple trauma injuries to the spine. Depending on patients’ medical history, clinical assessment and type of injury, radiographs should be followed up with CT and MRI imaging to detect the full extent of damage to bones and soft tissues.
- Upper Extremity Fractures – Sternoclavicular dislocations, scapular fractures and certain kinds of elbow, hand and wrist fractures can all be missed on standard radiographs. CT and MRI imaging are called for when clinical evidence points to potential fractures in these areas.
- Pelvic and Hip Fractures –Radiograph is used reliably when pelvic and hip fractures occur due to trauma. In these situations, an immediate diagnosis is needed to determine appropriate interventions. However, secondary CT or MRI imaging are recommended to detect all possible fractures.
- Lower Extremity Fractures – Knee and ankle fractures can be missed on standard radiographs, especially when multiple trauma injuries are present. Careful assessment of multiple radiograph views, thorough clinical assessment and further imaging can help provide an accurate diagnosis.
What to Do If You Have a Bone Fracture That Was Not Diagnosed Correctly
If you sought treatment for a suspected bone fracture or experienced a trauma injury (e.g., from a car accident, a sports injury, a serious fall) and were not diagnosed correctly and treated for a fracture, you may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against the health care provider(s) who should have diagnosed and treated the bone fracture(s). To bring a successful medical malpractice claim for a misdiagnosed bone fracture, you need to prove that your doctor and/or other health care providers were negligent and that their negligence caused you to suffer damages.
Florida Statute section 766.102(1) defines medical negligence as “a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider.” It further defines “the prevailing professional standard of care” as “that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.” In other words, if, given the same set of circumstances, other emergency room doctors, radiologists or other relevant health care providers would have diagnosed your fracture(s) correctly or consulted with a specialist and/or ordered further testing in order to diagnose your fracture(s), then the health care provider(s) in question may be considered negligent and held liable for medical malpractice.
As a victim of bone fracture medical malpractice, you may have suffered serious negative outcomes, including chronic pain, limitations on your functional capabilities and the possible need for complex surgery. An experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney can help you determine all of the economic and non-economic damages you have suffered, bring a medical malpractice claim to obtain substantial compensation for your pain, suffering, mental anguish, diminished capacity to enjoy life, lost income, diminished earning capacity, medical care expenses and other damages recoverable under Florida law.
Call Boyers Law Group at 305-512-7600 or submit the “Tell Us What Happened” form on our website to get the help you need with your bone fracture medical malpractice case from an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney. We have helped numerous injured victims of medical malpractice in Florida obtain the substantial compensation they need and deserve and are committed to helping you obtain a full and fair settlement or jury award for your misdiagnosed bone fracture injuries.