When you hear hoof beats, don’t look for zebras; look for horses.What might sound like instructions to a zoology apprentice is actually a fundamental principle in diagnostic medicine.
Dr. Theodore Woodward coined this oft-quoted zebra maxim in the 1940s to remind physicians to consider the simplest and most common cause of any given symptom before testing for rarer conditions. Additionally, if a patient does present unusual symptoms, he or she is more likely to be experiencing rare complications of a common condition than common symptoms of a rare disease.
Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which “zebras” do enter the exam room, and when they do, physicians must be prepared. Otherwise, they risk making a misdiagnosis and facing a medical malpractice lawsuit as a result.
Common Reasons for Misdiagnoses
1. Faulty EquipmentLike any other consumer good, medical equipment does not last forever. MRI machines, CT scanners, and ultrasound transducers are all likely to malfunction at some point. In most cases, administrative staff tracks when equipment needs servicing or replacing; however, if they fail to schedule regular maintenance, a misdiagnosis may occur.
2. Similar SymptomsIf a 50-year-old female patient complains of irregular menstruation, the “horse” would be menopause. In some cases, though, spotting and irregular bleeding can be indicative of more serious conditions, or “zebras,” like endometrial hyperplasia and cervical cancer. Physicians can avoid mistaking one condition for another simply because they share symptoms by conducting additional tests and evaluating any other issues the patient may be having.
3. Inadequate TrainingThe most effective way to reduce the risk of facing a medical malpractice lawsuit is to know your limits. For example, if a patient presents with signs of skin cancer and you are a family care provider or internist, it is wise to refer him or her to a dermatologist. Otherwise, you run the risk of dealing with an advanced condition that you are not equipped to treat.
Discuss Your Case with a Medical Malpractice Defense Lawyer in Florida
If a patient named you in a malpractice claim, turn to Lubell Rosen to start planning your defense immediately. Call (954) 880-9500 to speak to one of our AV-rated medical malpractice defense lawyers.