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What if a doctor misses a diagnosis because of focusing on COVID-19?

Kentucky, like much of the United States, has had a steady increase of residents contracting COVID-19 in early 2021. Now, 10 months into the coronavirus pandemic, more than 300,000 Kentuckians have had COVID-19. Nearly 3,000 of those have died from the virus.

Hospitals have been swamped. Doctors have seen so many coronavirus cases at 10 months in that they may miss another important diagnosis when examining a patient.

Missing a diagnosis

In fact, in an April 2020 Journals of the American College of Cardiology article, Dr. Rayan Yousefzai and Dr. Arvind Bhimaraj discussed the case of a 56-year-old patient who sought medical care after experiencing:

·       shortness of breath

·       chest pain

·       fever

After a virtual visit, his doctor prescribed him antibiotics and medication to open the airways in his lungs. Yet three days later, the patient called 911 because his symptoms worsened.

At the hospital, doctors focused on whether he had COVID-19 and missed another important diagnosis: He had a myocardial infarction. He eventually needed surgery to implant a heart pump in one of his arteries. Dr. Yousefzai and Dr. Arvind Bhimaraj noted in their article that hospital doctors need to be aware that they should not forget to consider a patient may have common heart problems as well as COVID-19.

Another misdiagnosis problem that’s become apparent is when nursing home residents receive false positive COVID-19 test results, but they don’t have the virus. In Connecticut, 89 nursing home and assisted living residents tested positive for COVID-19 and didn’t have the virus at that time. However, staff transferred these residents to a COVID-19 treatment area. Ultimately, these nursing home residents contracted coronavirus from sick patients in that area.

When misdiagnosis becomes a problem

Because coronavirus is so contagious, doctors may focus too much on diagnosing it. COVID-19 testing also has produced a number of false positive results during the pandemic. Misdiagnosing a patient can mean a doctor not only misses a diagnosing more serious health conditions, but a patient could be exposed to coronavirus in a healthcare setting when they shouldn’t be.

If a misdiagnosis leads to a patient’s death, becoming seriously ill or impacting their long-term quality of life, they could be a victim of medical malpractice. It wouldn’t be surprising if in the coming months, more patients and their families discover that a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis occurred when the patient had symptoms of COVID-19.

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