A woman presented to an urgent care center in Santa Fe, NM to have pain and bruising in her chest checked out after she took a fall. X-rays showed now evidence of fractures or contusion, so the woman was given a prescription for pain medication and released, with no instructions for follow-up care. Return trips to the same urgent care center followed suit. Months later, after visiting another healthcare provider, she was diagnosed with lung cancer that had already metastasized. Her prognosis is poor and now she’s suing the urgent care center and its parent company, charging that clinicians on site should have picked up on abnormalities in her chest x-ray. The suit alleges medical negligence, breach of warranty, and breach of contract and seeks unspecified monetary damages. The ultimate resolution of the case (and any determination of the validity of the charges against the urgent care operation) is yet to be seen. Did clinical staff, in fact, miss something they should have seen and fail to advise the patient accordingly? Or is this just an unfortunate occurrence that would have happened anywhere because the signs weren’t clear? We don’t know. Even if they’re cleared of any liability in the case, the clinic and company are suffering a loss of their reputation and the patient’s experience is far worse than that. The lesson is to always keep an open mind when reviewing images and labs. Focusing exclusively on the presenting complaint and its causes can sometimes be a disservice to the patient and an oversight that puts lives, careers, and entire businesses at risk.
Fail to Look Past the Presenting Complaint and You Could Land in Court—and Harm the Patient