Should My Doctor Have Known I Was Having a Heart Attack?
Each year in the United States, around 750,000 people experience a heart attack. Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack can be a terrifying experience. Often, however, symptoms of a heart attack are subtle and can be mistaken for something else, like indigestion or a pulled muscle. For this reason, you hear the caution over and over: "Don't diagnose yourself — go to the emergency room." Many people hesitate to do so, feeling certain that their symptoms are minor and not a sign of a heart attack.
Sometimes the opposite occurs: people are having symptoms that they wisely take seriously, and go to an ER or doctor seeking a diagnosis. After an examination and testing, they're released with the seemingly good news that there was no evidence of a heart attack, only for the patient or family to discover later that the heart attack was simply not diagnosed. This failure to diagnose a heart attack can result in greater damage to the heart muscle, a longer recovery, and of course, death.
What should my doctor have done to diagnose me?
Sometimes, a doctor can do everything right and still not manage to detect a heart attack. Many times, though, a doctor's failure to diagnose a patient's heart attack happens because the doctor didn't do everything he or she reasonably could to identify that the patient's symptoms were caused by a heart attack.
That word “reasonably” is important, because it points to something known as the “standard of care.” Medical treatment is guided by standards of care, or what a reasonable doctor would do under similar circumstances. If a doctor acted as prudently and cautiously as a doctor would be expected to under the same set of circumstances, he or she has acted in accordance with the relevant standard of care. In that case, no matter how poor a patient's outcome may be, the doctor has not committed malpractice.
Because the standard of care for diagnosing a heart attack depends in part on the circumstances, it's impossible for an article to confirm whether your doctor should have done more to diagnose your heart attack, or the heart attack of your loved one. However, a standard evaluation of a patient who comes to the ER complaining of chest pain includes a thorough history of the type of pain the patient is experiencing, how and when it started, and related symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, or dizziness. The patient's medical history can also provide important clues, such as if they have had false-negative testing prior to earlier cardiac events. Such information should serve as a caution to doctors not to rely too heavily on negative test results.
Other important diagnostic tools include an electrocardiogram (EKG). A single normal EKG does not rule out a heart attack; if an initial EKG is normal, it's wise to do more over the course of several hours. Similarly, tests of cardiac enzymes are important in diagnosing heart attack, as these proteins are released by dying heart cells. If tested too early, however, levels may appear normal even if a heart attack has taken place. Therefore, it is standard to run cardiac enzyme tests at least two times, six hours apart.
What should I do if my doctor misdiagnosed my heart attack?
Just as you should discuss any concerning medical symptoms with a professional who knows how to investigate and interpret them, you should also discuss any concerns about medical malpractice with an attorney who understands medical malpractice law. To extend the parallel, if you ignore medical symptoms, or your doctor fails to properly follow up on them, your health could be compromised or you could lose your life. If you fail to follow up on concerns about medical malpractice in a timely fashion, you could permanently lose your right to pursue compensation.
We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser if you believe that your doctor failed to diagnose your heart attack. We will listen to the facts of your case, help you understand how Oregon medical malpractice law applies in your situation, review your options with you, and help you decide on the best course of action.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.