Medical errors in pathology often lead to unnecessary treatment or a delayed diagnosis of disease. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology found that mistakes occur in up to 3.5% of prostate biopsies that are analyzed by reference labs. This high error rate is attributed to mis-read pathology and also biopsy specimens being switched during processing. A medical negligence claim may arise under Ohio law in either situation.
If a pathologist mis-reads a pathology slide, the interpretation can be so far off-base that it constitutes medical negligence. Likewise, if a lab switched slides, thereby mixing up one patient’s specimen with another patient’s specimen, this is a violation of accepted standards of medical care and constitutes medical negligence. The inquiry does not stop there, however.
In order to prove a medical malpractice claim in Ohio, you must not only prove that the pathologist or laboratory personnel was negligent, but you must also prove that the negligent act caused some harm. Thus, for example, if one benign slide is inadvertently switched with another benign slide, there would be no harm, so no meritorious lawsuit would exist.
However, if a benign specimen is misread as malignant or switched with a slide containing malignant tissue, harm may arise if the patient undergoes unnecessary treatment. Likewise, if a malignancy is misinterpreted as being benign or switched with a slide containing benign tissue, harm may arise if a delay in diagnosis of the prostrate cancer results and the cancer progresses from an early, treatable stage to a terminal stage.
Medical errors involving mistakes in reading and processing pathology slides can be good cases. The American Journal of Clinical Pathology article points out that these errors occur with some frequency. However, due to secrecy within the medical profession, none of the patients whose pathology was mis-read could tell their stories. With a million prostrate biopsies being performed each year in the U.S., and 1%-3.5% of those being mis-read, there must be a lot of stories to tell.