Cardiologist Malpractice

CardiologistA cardiologist is a specially trained doctor that specializes in preventing, diagnosis and managing diseases and health conditions involving the cardiovascular system which includes the heart and circulation of blood through the body. Cardiologists are different from cardiovascular surgeons. Cardio surgeons are surgical specialists that perform surgeries involving the heart and cardiovascular system. By contrast, a cardiologist is an internal medicine doctor that primarily performs diagnostic testing and prescribes medications. Cardiologists do perform some invasive procedures such as angioplasty, pacemaker insertion, and heart catheterizations.

The personal injury lawyers at our firm are very familiar with medical malpractice claims against cardiologists. Most of the cardiology cases we handle are in Maryland but we handle medical malpractice and birth injury cases around the country.

Our attorneys look at every malpractice lawsuit filed in Maryland. Cardiologists are frequently named as defendants in major medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits. In our experience litigating these cases, allegations against cardiologists usually involve diagnostic failures or misdiagnosis.

Cardiologist Education and Licensing

Like all doctors cardiologists start by completing medical school and earning a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. After earning their medical degree doctors who want to become cardiologists must complete a residency training program first in general internal medicine and then a specialized cardiology residency. The exact length of the residency training requirement varies depending on the specific field of cardiology. After successful completion of the residency training program, a fellowship in cardiology is required and can last up to 5 years.

Cardiologists can become board certified by satisfying the requirements of the American Board of Internal Medicine and passing the certification exam. Once certified the ABIM requires cardiologists to maintain their board certification through continuing education and periodic examinations. Cardiologists can further distinguish themselves by becoming a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

What Does a Cardiologist do?

Almost all cardiologists work in a private solo or small group practices with some connection or attachment to a hospital. Increasingly cardiology group practices are being acquired by hospitals and consolidated into the hospital medical systems. This is trend that occurred in all specialties over the last 10 years but particularly in the field of cardiology. Whether through acquisition or otherwise, most cardiologists have a standing affiliation with a hospital and a large part of their practice involves in-patient care.

Cardiologists help diagnose, treat and prevent heart diseases and health conditions involving the heart. They also focus on cardiovascular disease and conditions which involve the blood vessels. Cardiovascular and heart conditions are often interrelated. Cardiologists devote most of their time to diagnostic efforts and testing.

A patient with symptoms of a cardiovascular or heart problem will be referred to a cardiologist for testing to determine if they have a problem with their heart or blood vessels. Symptoms that might prompt a referral to a cardiologist include: chest pains; abnormal heart rates; shortness of breath; and high or low blood pressure. Cardiologists are also called in for the treatment of heart attack patients or other heart diseases such as:

Most cardiologists are primarily involved in non-invasive diagnostic testing and treatment with medication. Common diagnostic tests handled by cardiologists include electrocardiograms (EKG or ECG) and echocardiograms. However, some cardiologists perform invasive procedures such as angioplasty, valvuloplasty, stenting, congenital, and coronary thrombectomies. Cardiologists who perform these procedures are sometimes called interventional cardiologists.

Malpractice Claims Against Cardiologists

Cardiologists are sued for medical malpractice on a fairly regular basis. A recent Medscape study on cardiology malpractice claims reported that 60% of cardiologists have been named as a defendant in a malpractice lawsuit. Nearly half of the cardiologists in that 60% reported being sued more than one time. In our experience, malpractice claims against cardiologists usually involve some type of failure to diagnose, incorrect diagnosis, or delay in diagnosis, usually a heart attack. This seems to be consistent with the existing statistical data which indicates that diagnostic negligence is the leading cause of cardiology malpractice claims.

One new disturbing fact is that medical malpractice lawsuits against cardiologist have risen 91% in the last decade. Medical malpractice lawsuits generally are falling.

One common thread you see in the malpractice cases against cardiologists are allegations of negligence based on failure to perform additional testing or failure to follow up on initial testing. Take, for example, a patient who goes to cardiologist with shortness of breath or other symptoms. The cardiologist performs basic, entry-level testing which comes back normal. The patient is sent home with instructions to follow-up for further testing if symptoms get worse and ends up dying of a heart attack the next week from an artery blockage that maybe could have been discovered with a little more testing.

So much of what cardiologists do is based on testing and identifying potential cardiovascular problems before they cause things like heart attacks or strokes. With every patient that they see cardiologists have to decide how much testing is warranted and what type of testing to perform. This sort of diagnostic practice is exactly what leads to malpractice claims.

Cardiologist Verdicts and Settlements

Summarized below are various medical malpractice lawsuits against cardiologists that resulted in jury verdicts or publicly reported settlements. These cases offer a good sampling of the type of medical negligence allegations that cardiologists often face.

  • Plaintiff v Cardiologist (New Jersey 2017) $875,000: 69-year-old patient was home recovering from a triple bypass when began to experience symptoms of an aortic dissection (a known risk of bypass surgery). However, when he was re-hospitalized the defendant cardiologists attributed his problems to pneumonia and problems with his medication and failed to diagnose the aortic dissection. More specifically, the clinical cardiologist failed to perform a trans-esophageal echocardiogram, chest CT or chest MRI any of which would have revealed the problem. Instead a more limited echocardiogram test was performed. The patient eventually died as a result of his undiagnosed aortic dissection and sued the cardiologists for malpractice. The case settled for $875k.
  • Deceased Patient v Cardiologist (Massachusetts 2017) $1.7 million: Male patient in his mid-50s was under the care of the defendant cardiologist. He was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and inferior wall ischemia and a metal stent was implanted to treat the condition. Sometime later patient has chest pain and goes to hospital where defendant installs a new drug-eluting stent. Within hours after being discharged from the hospital patient suffers cardiac arrest and dies. Cause of death is determined to be myocardial infarct. His estate brings wrongful death malpractice action against the cardiologist which eventually settles for $1.7 million.
  • Estate of Doe v Cardiologist (Massachusetts 2016) $2.5 million: 44-year-old male patient went to first defendant cardiologist for testing as recommended by his primary care physician. EKG tests shows potential oxygenation issue with his heart. It was recommended that he undergo an exercise stress test, which was performed by the second defendant cardiologist. The results of that test were relayed to the decedent as normal. Five days after the consultation with the second defendant cardiologist, the patient died from a cardiac incident. Patient's estate sues both cardiologists alleging that they were negligent in failing to properly follow-up on test results which indicated likelihood of obstructive coronary artery disease. Suit also alleged that second cardiologist incorrectly interpreted test results as normal. Case was settled by both defendants for total of $2.5 million.
  • Doe v Roe Cardiologist (Washington 2014) $3.5 million: Plaintiff, 43-year-old man with a history of reflux, experienced various symptoms, including pain upon exertion. He consulted with defendant cardiologist who told him to increase his Prilosec dosage and come back for a stress echocardiogram if the symptoms persisted. 2 weeks later plaintiff suffers a myocardial infarction (heart attack). Subsequent testing reveals that plaintiff had a 99% blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery, requiring placement of stent. Plaintiff suffers numerous complications as a result of the heart attack including renal failure, infection, and bowel ischemia, which required surgical resection and placement of an ileostomy. He is also forced to retire from his job. He sues defendant cardiologist for negligently failing to perform adequate testing and diagnose his blockage earlier. Case settles for $3.5 million.
  • Estate of Minor v Cardiologist (Massachusetts 2013) $2.2 million: Decedent, 6-year-old boy, had an episode of chest pains and fainting while running with friends. He was taken to hospital and cardiologist found no cardiac basis for the fainting. After a second episode the child went to a pediatric cardiologist who did an echocardiogram but found the results to be normal and concluded there was nothing wrong with the boy. Eight months later the boy suffered a heart attack while playing and died. The autopsy revealed that he had an abnormality in his coronary artery, a condition that could have been treatable if timely diagnosed. The boy's estate sued the pediatric cardiologist alleging that was negligent in failing to diagnose the boy's condition. The case was settled out of court for $2,250,000.
  • Rita v West Suburban Cardiologists (Illinois 2010) $3.7 million: Patient, 38-year-old female, went to hospital for severe shortness of breath and was examined by defendant cardiologist. Defendant cardiologist wanted to do a stress test at the hospital but decided (based on her young age) it could wait and be done the following week on an out-patient basis. Patient was discharged from the hospital but died of advanced coronary disease before her out-patient testing. Patient's estate sued claiming that if the stress test had been done in the hospital if would have revealed her condition and prevented her death. Defendant claimed that he acted appropriately under the circumstances. Jury deliberated for 2 days before awarding plaintiff $3.7 million.
Contact Miller & Zois About Cardiologist Malpractice

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