Oncology and Malpractice

/ / Legal x-rays
Ογκολογία και Malpractice

Βy Dimitris Aineias Spiliotis, T.Lawyer LL.B

Medical malpractice means any conduct of a doctor that is assessed as falling short of the standard of care required in his or her profession, generally because the doctor fails to observe his or her professional standard or because he or she violates the generally accepted rules of medical science (de lege artis).

Oncology is a relatively low-risk specialty. The primary reason for this is that most often oncologists do not make the initial diagnosis of the disease, but the patient is referred to them after the diagnosis has been made by a doctor of another speciality.

In general, an oncologist commits medical malpractice when he or she fails to meet the standards of accepted practice in his or her field. Such standards of accepted practice in the specialty of oncology may include missing signs and symptoms of cancer that he or she should have identified, incorrect diagnoses and inappropriate treatment decisions.

Malpractice in oncology is most often found in late or failed diagnosis of cancer or in the proper obtaining of informed consent. Less frequently we will find cases of medical malpractice regarding the dosage of chemotherapy or in relation to genetic counselling.

Based on national and foreign case law, primary care physicians are most likely to face malpractice charges, followed by general surgeons and gastroenterologists.

Regarding breast cancer in the U.S., which is the type of cancer most commonly found among malignancies, an important fact to note is that, statistically, seven out of ten malpractice cases involved late diagnosis of the malignancy while only two out of ten cases involved misdiagnosis. These figures change dramatically in the case of colorectal cancer, where the numbers are reversed, and eight out of ten cases involve misdiagnosis of malignancy and only one out of ten cases involve late diagnosis. Finally, in the case of dermatological malignancies or head and neck malignancies, failure to make a correct diagnosis is more often found in cases of medical negligence.

In order to avoid any involvement with the justice system, a doctor should always follow some important steps.

  • Full and clear information to the patient – Good Patient/Physician Communication
  • Correctly obtaining a Medical History
  • Obtaining his/her necessary consent in accordance with the provisions of the law
  • Particular attention to the observance of the rules of medical science
  • Enriching knowledge and following guidelines