Rosenbaum Faria LLP Follows the Investigation of Mercy Medical Center's Responsibility for Young Woman's Death Following A Double Mastectomy for Cancer Misdiagnosed Due to Lab Mistake

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According to leading New York newspapers, including The Times and Newsday, Mercy Medical Center of Long Island is under investigation for improper care and treatment of patients and improper lab practices.

According to leading New York newspapers, including The Times and Newsday, Mercy Medical Center of Long Island is under investigation for improper care and treatment of patients and improper lab practices.

According to The Times and The Post, the investigations began when a woman in her 30's was diagnosed with breast cancer. With a history of cancer in her family, she elected to have a double mastectomy. The woman died from post-surgical complications. The problem was, the woman didn't have breast cancer. The Mercy Medical Center lab had confused her specimen with one from another patient.

Following on the heels of the death of the young woman, an outspoken senior surgeon, Anthony Colantonio of Garden City, reported the inappropriate treatment of patients by a physician assistant. In separate incidents, the PA may have been responsible for the deaths of three patients at Mercy Medical Center. When the doctor began making complaints about the PA's practices, Mercy Medical Center removed the doctor's privileges at the facility, according to several articles in the New York Post.

The State of New York's Office of Professional Medical Conduct has gotten involved and is investigated the allegations against the physician assistant. Unfortunately, while the laws in New York require that physician assistants practice under the supervision of a licensed doctor, the doctor doesn't have to be physically present when the PA renders care or treatment.

"With cancer misdiagnosis and mistreatment on the rise, you would think hospitals would be more careful with lab specimens. A simple labeling error cost a young woman her life," said Cory Rosenbaum of Manhattan law firm Rosenbaum Faria, LLP.

Davenport (2000) lists the top five malpractice-risk conditions in order of prevalence as myocardial infarction, breast cancer, appendicitis, lung cancer, and colon cancer, and notes that almost all suits are cases of misdiagnosis or mismanaged diagnostic tests leading to delayed treatment. Myocardial infarction and appendicitis are likely to be related to emergency department visits, whereas the three litigation-prone types of cancers are more common in general physician work.

Said Mr. Rosenbaum, "This is becoming a critical problem in the US. The failure of labs to be properly supervised or engage in proper procedure is costing people their lives.    These innocent men and women go to their local hospital or doctor expecting to find out whether they have cancer. When they are told they have it, they start treatments that can involve serious surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, any of which could end their life. And what are they supposed to do if the lab made a mistake? A woman who loses her breast, or a man who has testicular surgery isn't going to be made whole again by a simple apology or a change in practice."

A December 1999 study of 6,171 slides, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found a 1.4% error rate in pathology tests in patients referred for cancer treatment. Of the 86 total misdiagnoses, 20 had benign tumors misdiagnosed as malignant and presumably received unnecessary cancer treatment. An earlier Johns Hopkins study of prostate cancer biopsies found an error that ruled out cancer in six out of 535 cases.

According to Newsday, Mercy Medical Center has engaged in a "plan of correction involved ensuring that specimens are properly identified."

"Of course, this change in policy comes too late for the young woman who died following their lab's mistake," said Mr. Rosenbaum. "It's good their policies have been changed, but if they don't continue to carefully supervise the use of those policies, there will be more mistakes."

Rosenbaum Faria, LLP, continues to monitor news and medical journals to follow trends and practices as they relate to cancer diagnosis, care, and treatment.

Sources:
Newsday, "State Investigates Deaths at Mercy Medical Center" by Ridgely Ochs, 02/12/08

New York Post, "Woman Dies After Breast Cancer Mix-Up" by Susan Edelman, 02/10/08

New York Times, "L.I. Hospital Scrutinized After Deaths of Patients" by Cara Buckley, 02/11/08

Patient Safety in American Hospitals, July 2004, HealthGrades Quality Study, HealthGrades, http://www.healthgrades.com/media/english/pdf/HG_Patient_Safety_Study_Final.pdf

National Patient Safety Foundation at the AMA: Public Opinion of Patient Safety Issues, Louis Harris & Associates, September 1997.

Institute of Medicine (IOM), "To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System", 2000, online.
John Davenport, MD, JD, Documenting High-Risk Cases to Avoid Malpractice Liability, Family Practice Management, October 2000

Joseph D. Kronz, William H. Westra, and Jonathan I. Epstein, Mandatory Second Opinion Surgical Pathology at a Large Referral Hospital, Cancer: Dec. 1, 1999, vol. 86, no. 11, pp 2426-2435. (Johns Hopkins study)

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CHERIE YANNONE
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