When someone in Providence says that "Medicine is not an exact science," they're not very far off from the truth. Doctors, PAs, and nurses are really medical detectives that look at the clues (symptoms) presented to them and develop a theory (diagnosis). Then they set to work testing that theory, either proving themselves wrong or verifying their original suspicions. While it should be understood that they are human and will often guess wrong, it's hoped that their extensive training and experience will eventually point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, in healthcare, one is only allowed a certain number of wrong guesses before disaster strikes.
An Oregon woman may serve as a stark reminder of this after a failure to diagnose an epidural hematoma led to a delay in treatment that left her paralyzed. She originally presented at the hospital with neck pain and tingling in her extremities. Doctors originally diagnosed her with a cervical strain, when in reality she was bleeding in between the skull and brain. She asserts that her symptoms should have warranted imaging studies of her head, which would have exposed the real problem. Instead, she was given a painkiller and discharged, only to return hours later unable to move her arms and legs.
Patients place a great deal of trust in a doctor's ability to accurately assess and diagnose what is wrong with them. Most of the time, they're either able to get it right, or the ailment is minor enough in nature that it poses no serious problems. However one would hope that doctors would choose to rule out the worst case scenario, which is what this woman's complaint claims should have happened. Failure to do so could open the doctor up to liability concerns. Anyone who has been the victim of doctor error such as this may wish to seek out an attorney just as she did to initiate legal action.
Source: Courthouse News Service "Kaiser Misdiagnosis Led to Paralysis, Woman Says" Barbara Wallace, Dec. 30, 2013