Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and falling on the floor. When you try to get up, you discover that you cannot do so because your feet are numb. You also notice that one side of your body seems weaker than the other. In a panic, you dial 911 and call for an ambulance.
When you arrive in the emergency room, they run a battery of tests and find nothing extraordinary in your tests. They keep you overnight for observation.
During that time, they find some classic risk factors for stroke which may indicate there is something more serious occurring:
- Your blood pressure is high
- Your cholesterol levels are elevated
- While typically controlled with diabetes medications, your blood sugar is elevated
- Sudden and unexplained headaches
The emergency room physician believes the problem was caused by your diabetes. They note on your chart that they have diagnosed you with diabetic neuropathy. Since you cannot stand, the doctor also invites a physical therapist to assist you in regaining the strength in your legs.
A family member comes in to visit and suggests that you ask to be seen by a neurologist because your condition is no different than when you walked into the emergency room. After more than 24 hours since you arrived, a neurologist is consulted, and they perform additional tests. The verdict is you have suffered a stroke.
Headache Complaints and Stroke Misdiagnosis
A recent study of reasons for emergency room visits shows us why an emergency room doctor must use caution when working with unfamiliar patients. Because stroke victims often have unexplained headaches, more ER delayed diagnosis of strokes could potentially increase.
A headache ranks third among the top reasons for a woman to visit an emergency room. Headaches rank fourth of the top reasons a man visits an emergency room. These are among the most common complaints of patients in the 19 to 64 age bracket. We know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that more than one-third of all stroke victims are younger than 65.
Long-Term Impact of Delayed Diagnosis in Stroke Victims
As with any dangerous condition, time matters. This is especially true when dealing with a condition that affects your brain, which controls every bodily function. Stroke victims lose eight weeks of life for every ten minutes they do not receive proper treatment for a stroke.
Some of the more serious consequences of a delayed diagnosis include:
These injuries are impossible to recover from. Unlike other body cells, brain cells typically do not heal themselves. Complications including additional blood clots, loss of ability to communicate, and paralysis are potential issues a stroke survivor may suffer.
Delays Can Make a Lifetime of Care Necessary
Because of the severity of the damage caused when doctors improperly diagnose stroke patients, victims could need life-long care. When your loved one has been a victim of a delayed diagnosis, you should seek guidance from a medical malpractice lawyer. An attorney can help you prepare to hold the parties responsible for a life-altering delay in diagnosis and treatment for a stroke.
Care over the life of a stroke victim can cost thousands of dollars. After a stroke, victims may require feeding tubes, assistance with everyday hygiene and, other services.
Younger patients, particularly those who have suffered because of an ER delayed diagnosis, may require additional therapy, including:
- Therapy to help their speech
- Strength and physical therapy
- Relearning daily skills, including eating, bathing, etc.
- Counseling for the emotional damage common in stroke victims
Families should not have to bear the burden of these costs. Whether the patient was a younger person or a senior, the care they will likely require following a stroke is considerably different than the care they required before their stroke. The sooner the rehabilitation process begins, the more likely a victim will regain some of their prior health and strength.
Improperly Prescribing Medication Following a Stroke
Doctors may prescribe a limited number of medications following a stroke. Generally, these medications dissolve blood clots and prevent new ones from forming. One common medication is a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which helps restore blood flow to the brain.
However, a doctor may order tPA for their patient, but the patient may receive a different medication. To understand how this can occur, it is first necessary to understand the history of this classification of medication.
Here is the timeline you should be familiar with:
- 1987 – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Activase for use in patients who required assistance managing acute myocardial infarction.
- 1995 – The FDA approved Activase for use in patients at risk for developing a pulmonary embolism.
- 1995 – The FDA approved Activase for use in the recovery process of stroke victims.
Concerns followed the 1995 approval. In 2000, a second drug, TNKASE, also classified as a tPA, was approved only for use among patients who required treatment to manage acute myocardial infarction.
Unfortunately, because Activase was approved first, doctors who wrote orders abbreviated the drug as tPA on charts when prescribing the medication. They may abbreviate TNKASE as TNK on medical charts. However, from time to time, when a dispensing nurse is using a computerized system to obtain a medication, then they are as likely to be dispensed TNK as tPA.
The Dangers of tPA Medication Errors for Stroke Victims
When patients are supposed to be prescribed Activase as part of their stroke recovery process, they need this treatment to prevent further blood clots. However, if a patient receives TNKASE instead, they get medication that lacks any known efficacy for stroke treatment. Because both medications have different dosage levels, there is also a potential risk of an overdose of TNK.
Due to the overdose risk associated with TNK, stroke patients may also be at greater risk for internal bleeding.
The specific risks include:
- Intracranial hemorrhage
- Retroperitoneal bleed
- Extended hospitalization
Because of these risks, in 2015, the FDA warned physicians that they should only use the specific drug name, and not the more convenient tPA or TNK designation, when writing orders or ordering prescriptions for patients who are candidates for these drugs.
Why an ER Is the Area of Concern for tPA Errors
Patients suffering from a cardiac event commonly receive Activase, TNKase, and RETAVASE. Critical care units, cardiac units, or emergency rooms generally handle these events. When a patient presents as suffering a myocardial infarction, patients may receive any one of these tissue plasminogen activators (tPA) on an emergency basis. However, if the patient displays signs of a stroke, administering anything except Activase could be deadly.
Florida Risks of ER Delayed Stroke Diagnosis and Mistaken tPA Drugs
Across Florida, there are more than 15,000 deaths annually due to a patient suffering a stroke. According to the CDC, the older you are, the higher the risk of having a stroke. The CDC states that the risk of stroke doubles every ten years for those over 55.
These statistics should concern everyone. This is especially true when you review the U.S. Census data for Florida, which indicates that more than 20 percent of the population is currently over 65. Furthermore, while the firm numbers are often a source of controversy, medical errors play a role in a significant number of preventable deaths.
Holding Medical Professionals Accountable for Delayed Diagnosis and Med Errors
All kinds of medical mistakes happen in hospitals and other medical facilities. When you or a loved one has an adverse health outcome because of a delayed ER diagnosis or because of a medication error, the facility and the attending physician should be held accountable.
Filing a medical malpractice suit is complicated, and it is not something you can, or should, do without the assistance of a competent attorney.
Before you may file a lawsuit:
- A physician must confirm that delayed diagnosis of a stroke or improper medication after a stroke caused additional health issues for the patient.
- You must notify the party against whom you intend to file a lawsuit in writing. The affidavit from the physician who confirmed an issue existed must accompany your intent to sue.
- There is a 90-day waiting period for the defendant to respond to your intent to file a lawsuit. During this time, the defendant will request medical records and collect other evidence to defend the claim.
- Once the 90 days have passed, the defendant may attempt to offer or negotiate a settlement with the plaintiff.
- If you cannot settle, or if the defendant disputes the claim, then the plaintiff has the right to file the lawsuit.
At all times, the process must comply with Florida’s medical malpractice statute of limitations. Contact an attorney as soon as you become aware of the harm caused by a delayed diagnosis of stroke or a medication error in treating a stroke.
Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis Differ but Outcomes Are Similar
A missed diagnosis and a delayed diagnosis are not the same. However, they share one important characteristic—ultimately, they put the patient at greater risk for a poor outcome.
When you, or a loved one, go to an emergency room for unexplainable symptoms, we expect a certain standard of care. An emergency room medical team that fails to diagnose a stroke properly can cause serious and life-altering consequences. Emergency rooms must obtain a medical history from those they are treating, so they are not basing their diagnosis on only the symptoms for which the patient is visiting.
Certain hereditary and medical factors increase the risk of stroke. Medical professionals must consider them when treating a patient for any signs of numbness or weakness on one side of their body or someone with unexplained headaches.
Medical Malpractice Lawyers Can Help Hold ERs Accountable
If you or a loved one suffers a loss of quality of life because of a delayed ER diagnosis or you received the wrong medication for the treatment of a stroke, a medical malpractice lawyer can guide you through the process of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. A lawsuit cannot restore the health enjoyed before a stroke or medication error, but it can prevent financial devastation.
Contact a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you learn about a potential treatment issue and schedule a free consultation. You have nothing to lose. You can learn more about your legal options, and you can feel confident that a strong advocate will protect your rights.
Remember, hospitals and medical teams can be held accountable for their negligent behavior. They will have a team of lawyers defending their actions, and the best way to fight back is to have someone on your side who will protect your interests and fight for what is best for you.