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Budget Cuts for Free Cancer Screening Clinics in New York Could Put Patients' Lives at Risk, Says New York Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Increased strain on the system will increase misdiagnosis or late diagnosis of cancers and infections, says Preston Douglas of New York Cancer Malpractice Lawyers Gurfein Douglas LLP

New York, NY (PRWEB) May 10, 2009 -- Recent budget cuts in New York State's free cancer screening program will not only cause delays in breast, colon and cervical cancer screening for thousands of New Yorkers, but according to one New York personal injury lawyer, the added money and time pressure placed on the system will likely lead to slap dash testing procedures and test results that get lost or slip through the cracks.

According to Preston Douglas, partner in the New York personal injury law firm of Gurfein Douglas LLP, the philosophy of modern medicine is all about the cost.

"Poor people can't afford Park Avenue doctors," Douglas said.  "They depend on these free clinics for their healthcare needs.  When budgets get cut more people are hurt and die.  That's the way I've seen it work in my 35 years in practice and there is no reason to expect the situation to change now despite what the Health Department would like us to believe."

Douglas said that misdiagnosis, or late diagnosis of cancers and infections are the two most common errors doctors make and, coincidentally, they are the illnesses that can result in the worst harm to patients.

 "There are practical ways to detect these illnesses," Douglas explained. "But to do it effectively, a logical path of diagnosis must be followed.  This is where breakdowns happen, and mistakes are made, when there's not enough money to go around."

While delays alone in routine diagnostic testing may not put the State at much risk for liability claims, a misdiagnosis or misreading of data and images can end up costing the provider, and the patient who was misdiagnosed, plenty. 

"When claims of medical malpractice arise," Douglas said, "we look at the harm that was done and the nature of the care that was given before any legal papers are filed.  People who call a medical malpractice attorney, rich and poor alike, frequently know what was done wrong to them and can give specifics in a clear way.

 "Since nobody knows the exact moment when a cancer changes from localized to incurable metastatic," he added, "it is essential that the paper trail between labs, doctors and patients be traced to be able to determine if any breakdown, or delay in follow-up procedures, made a difference in the health and survival prognosis of the patient."

 Douglas explained that in the case of cancer, it is generally accepted that the delay, depending on the type and location of the cancer, must be on the order of one year to make a difference. 

"This is entirely different with an infection," he said, "which can change from treatable to critical in a matter of hours."

Before a patient can file a medical malpractice claim, the doctor's care of the patient must be reviewed by a medical expert to see if the doctor deviated from the accepted standard of care.  Whether there was medical negligence or deviation from the standard of care will depend on the type of illness and whether the delay caused a change in the patient's chances of survival.

In general, he points out, academic specialists inside hospitals make fewer mistakes than doctors practicing in outlying areas. 

 "It really does come down to geography in many instances," he said.  "Doctors in suburban and rural areas tend to be in the business of moving patients in and out of their offices as fast as possible in order to make the most money.

"As for doctors in the best urban teaching hospitals," he added, "I don't see any particular specialty area making more diagnostic mistakes than any other, except maybe emergency departments.  These people are under pressure to make a diagnosis and treat in the shortest time possible.  Sadly they are often wrong."

Douglas, whose New York City law firm has handled many cases of cancer malpractice, recommends that patients should call a lawyer if they have had a bad outcome they feel is due to a neglect or error by their doctor, or clinic, or hospital, or any other healthcare provider.

And if a lawsuit is filed, he explained, clients should know that it could take several years to complete.

"On television," he said, "the plaintiff is in court by the third commercial break.  That's not real life.  We prepare our clients to go on with their lives as best they can while the case proceeds, and we help do whatever we can for them to make their lives easier and livable. 

"In the meantime," he added, "we have to get records and read them.  Then we send the records to the appropriate specialists for their opinions.  Then, if we believe there has been malpractice, we will start a lawsuit.  The preliminaries could take many months.  Then there will be depositions of all parties.  And, finally, there's a trial if the case can't be settled.  But expecting an early settlement is probably unrealistic."


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