Delay in diagnosis of cancer: the impact on the patient

In questioning clients, plaintiff attorneys might want to inquire about how their clients received the news of their cancer diagnosis. It is interesting to compare what physicians and nurses say about how the news was delivered with how the person with cancer perceives he was told the news. After 30 years of oncology nursing, I see that as time elapses, the more divergent the opinions of patients and healthcare givers become. When a patient finds out that her cancer diagnosis was delayed or misdiagnosed previously, she typically reacts with heightened anger, frustration, resentment, and a loss of faith in the medical system that has failed her. Healthcare providers can help to alleviate this suffering by going through a process of value assessment with patients. Attorneys may find these questions useful in the direct examination of the cancer client. Questions that help in understanding how patients feel and cope with delayed diagnosis are:

• How do you feel about the delayed diagnosis/misdiagnosis?
• What do you think could have been done differently?
• How would your situation be different if your diagnosis had been made earlier?
• Who and what do you understand contributed to your misdiagnosis?
• Have you discussed your feelings about the misdiagnosis with the doctor who is responsible for your situation?
• Were your cancer symptoms dismissed or disregarded by your physician?
• Could you have done anything that would have changed the outcome?
• Who or what do you blame for this misdiagnosis?
• How are you coping with your feelings about the misdiagnosis?
• What do you think would make a difference for you in coping with this situation?
• What legal outcome do you desire as a result of your action?
• What will make a difference for your spouse/family as far as an outcome is concerned?

Since most cancers are slow growing, a delayed diagnosis may take two years or more before it is evident that the diagnosis has been missed.

This information is taken from “Cancer Pain and Suffering” by Carol Bales, MSN, RN, AOCN, CCRP, in Patricia Iyer (Editor) Medical Legal Aspects of Pain and Suffering.

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