An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in dealing with issues pertaining to the ear, nose and throat (ENT). There are many subspecialties in the ENT arena. Some of these subspecialties include: neurtology, rhinology, facial and plastic reconstruction, otology, pediatric otolaryngology, laryngology and allergy. Once an ENT finishes medical school they are required to complete one year of general surgery and then a 4 year residency or fellowship in otolaryngology. Some of the most common issues ENTs are sought out for treatment include: sleep apnea, sinusitis, ear infections, tonsillitis, hearing loss, nosebleeds, and cancer of the head or neck.
ENTs are able to diagnose and provide treatment to their patients through information obtained through things such as patient history, diagnostic studies, physical examination, biopsy and surgery. If a patient’s ENT does not prescribe a necessary test, such as an MRI or, alternatively, a CAT-scan, this can put the patient in a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation. Not prescribing such an innocuous test may be dangerous because these physicians are treating patients with issues that arise in close proximity to the brain.
That being said, such medical malpractice claims are not easily won. A study in, “The Laryngoscope,” looking at otolaryngology malpractice claims ranging from 2001 to 2011, researchers found that in most cases, otolaryngologists came out as the winner, 58 percent of the time. This is not to say, however, that plaintiffs never won. And when plaintiffs were successful in bringing a medical malpractice claim, the average award was found to be $1,782,514.
One such case took place in New York in 2012. One Lori Mandel suffered a misdiagnosis from the ENT she sought treatment from and, as a result of this misdiagnosis, she suffered from complications that ultimately affected her quality of life. Ms. Mandel had been complaining about headaches and vertigo. While the ENT knew Ms. Mandel suffered from sinusitis it never occurred to him this could be the cause of her headaches and vertigo. Ms. Mandel’s counsel argued that antibiotics and a referral to a specialist would have treated her sinusitis and, thus put an end to her symptoms. Rather, Ms. Mandel continued to suffer from the infection, which lead to an infection in her pituitary gland, that she claimed caused diabetes insipidus, and impaired the function of her kidneys. Ms. Mandel was awarded $8.6 million for past and future medical expenses.
In a 2013 study, researchers looked into ways in which ENTs could better prevent medical malpractice claims while simultaneously increasing physician awareness. These researchers found that getting the appropriate diagnosis, talking about all the options available to the patient, as well as the potential risks and realistic expectations, and performing any necessary surgery correctly are imperative to patient care.
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