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Lawsuit’s Lesson: Listen To The Radiologist

May 17, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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A neuroradiologist told the internist that a CT scan showed brain abnormalities, possibly indicating a brain tumor or a stroke. The radiologist said further diagnostic testing was needed.

The internist skipped the additional testing and instead told the patient he had a brain tumor and would live maybe six months.

The patient did not have brain cancer. He had actually suffered several small strokes. Earlier this month, more than four years after the “six months to live” diagnosis, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy awarded the patient $59,820 for the grief and stress that the mistaken diagnosis had caused him and his family. The judge wrote:

It is difficult to put a price tag on the anguish of a man wrongly convinced of his impending death. Mr. Templin lived for 148 days … under the mistaken impression that he was dying of metastatic brain cancer.

The Independent Record newspaper of Helena, Montana, chronicles the story this way: The patient, Mark Templin, arrived on January 28, 2009, at the VA Medical Center in Fort Harrison, Montana, complaining of chest pain. Doctors inserted a stent. A week later, Templin developed problems with memory, vision, and speech, and was having headaches.

An ophthalmologist suspected a stroke and recommended the CT scan. Despite the radiologist’s call for further testing, internist Patrick Morrow, MD, gave Templin and his family the diagnosis of brain cancer, the judge ruled. Dr. Morrow testified that he had actually said his “greatest fear” was cancer and had recommended an MRI, but the judge found no medical records to back those claims.

Templin quit his job, sold his truck, and entered hospice care. Then he started feeling better. A new CT scan showed evidence of several small strokes, and an MRI in December 2009 confirmed that his symptoms resulted from stroke, not brain cancer.

The judge ordered the VA to pay $500 a day for the initial period of severe mental and emotional distress from February 4, 2009, to April 15, 2009, and $300 a day for a period of less-severe distress from April 15 until the new diagnosis. He also told the VA to repay Templin for the costs of a “last” birthday celebration and a prearranged funeral service.

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