Failure to diagnose cancer can lead to devastating consequences. When a patient approaches their doctor with a set of symptoms, the physician is required to fulfill a “duty of care.” A doctor may be able diagnose a disease or medical condition after performing an exam to confirm symptoms, order tests to clarify symptoms or refer the patient to a specialist for diagnosis. A doctor is expected to know what symptoms and risk factors play into a patient’s risk of developing a serious medical condition such as cancer.
Consequences of failure to diagnose cancer
Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes are made. It is estimated that at least 40,000 cancer patients die unnecessarily each year because of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.
Failure to diagnose cancer can lead to devastating results with cancer moving to an advanced stage or spreading to other organs that may be difficult or impossible to treat. Early detection and diagnosis are extremely important to the health outcomes of cancer patients. Failure to diagnose cancer can prevent a patient from receiving critical medical treatment that may not be an option in later stages of cancer.
When has a doctor performed below the “standard of care?”
A failure to diagnose cancer can happen when a family physician or emergency room doctor is too distracted to listen carefully to their patient’s symptoms. If a physician notates the symptoms but fails to perform an appropriate exam, order diagnostic tests or make a referral to an oncologist he or she may have performed below a “standard of care” that a reasonable physician would have used.
Bellingham doctor charged with unprofessional conduct in failure to diagnose rectal cancer
Recent reporting by the Bellingham Herald revealed that a Bellingham doctor has been charged with unprofessional conduct after he allegedly failed to address the symptoms presented by his female patient who was later diagnosed with rectal cancer. According to the WA State Department of Health, Dr. Craig K. Moore, who specializes in sports medicine, was charged on Feb. 28.
Timeline/details of the charge:
- Patient had initial visit with Moore on May 5, 2015 where she reported a variety of symptoms, including blood in her stool and abdominal pain.
- Despite the relaying of these symptoms, Moore did not perform any exams or order diagnostic tests. He did, however, recommend prostrate screening.
- The patient returned to Moore’s office on May 29, 2015 to communicate that she was still experiencing the symptoms. Moore documented the symptoms on this visit but again failed to perform an examination or order tests.
- On June 18, 2015 the patient returned to the office where Moore documented neck and back pain but did not follow up with the patient about her earlier symptoms.
- Another visit occurred on July 16, 2015 where Moore examined the woman’s arms and legs. Documentation of that visit was identical to his notes from the June 18, 2015, appointment.
- Finally, the woman sought a second opinion in July, 2015 at the urging of her family. She had a colonoscopy that September and was diagnosed with rectal cancer the following October.
Moore is accused of performing “below the standard of care” because he did not properly address the woman’s complaints of abdominal pain and bloody stool at least twice. His documentation on the appointments was also “incomplete, duplicative and incorrect.”
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health, Moore has not formally responded to the charge but has until March 20 to do so. For Moore’s part, he has retained an attorney and plans to request a hearing before the Department of Health’s medical commission where he suspects the charge will be dropped.
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