Earlier this week, we wrote that only about 20 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits result in a payment to the patient. This can take the form of a jury award or a settlement out of court. Unfortunately, some types of medical malpractice are difficult to prove.
When examining those claims that do result in payment, some common errors emerge. According to researchers in a recent study, failure to diagnose a heart attack accounts for about 30 percent of medical malpractice cases that result in payment.
In about 2 to 5 percent of cases, patients are mistakenly discharged from emergency departments even though they are having a heart attack. The problem, researchers say, is that chest pain is not a predictable indicator of acute myocardial infarction.
Researchers in the study followed the progress of about 3,300 patients who came into one hospital's emergency department with chest pain. They asked the patients to gauge their level of pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, they monitored and communicated with each patient for the next 30 days to see which ones had future heart-related incidents.
According to the study's authors, there was not a strong correlation between severity of pain and the likelihood of heart attack, either in the moment or over the next 30 days. Additionally, chest pain lasting more than an hour was also an unreliable indicator.
This means that severe chest pain does not necessarily mean a heart attack is imminent. Conversely, the opposite may also be true. One of the study's authors said: "If chest pain isn't severe, that doesn't mean it's not a heart attack."
Source: Reuters, "Chest pain severity not a heart attack indicator: study," Allison Bond, Aug. 12, 2011