Pulmonary embolism (PE) is more common in patients with cancer. In addition, patients with malignancy who develop PE are more likely to have a recurrence of the condition. In many cases, PE and related deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be prevented in cancer patients. In such circumstances, a physician’s failure to take precautionary measures may constitute medical malpractice under Ohio law.
In Ohio, medical negligence cases against a doctor, nurse, hospital or other healthcare provider are generically referred to as “medical claims,” although most people call these “medical negligence” or “medical malpractice” cases. Irrespective of what terminology is used, in medical claims, a patient must prove that the healthcare provider fell below accepted standards of care, resulting in harm to the patient. Standards of care are based upon what reasonable healthcare providers do in similar circumstances. Certain factors come into play in deciding what is reasonable: existing practice recommendations, medical studies and patient safety are key considerations.
Physicians have long known that cancer increases the risk that a patient will develop blood clots in their legs. When these blood clots become unstable, they can break free and travel (or, “embolize”) through the venous system into the patient’s lung. Once in the lungs, a pulmonary embolism can block the free exchange of oxygen, leading to a lack of oxygen to vital organs and death of lung tissue (or, “infarction”). In this way, PE can be deadly. In fact, PE is a leading cause of death in the U.S.
Cancer patients face twice the risk of recurrent PE and death as non-cancer patients. Because of this risk, consideration must be given to the prophylactic use of anticoagulants, such as Heparin, Coumadin and Warfarin, to prevent PE. Since doctors know about the risk of PE in cancer patients, treatment recommendations have been developed to protect high risk patients. It is most certainly a tragedy if a patient with curable cancer dies of preventable PE due to a negligent doctor’s failure to follow treatment guidelines.