Pulmonology is one of the highest paying medical subspecialties due to rapidly increasing demand. The Baby Boomers represent the largest generation in recent history. They are set to enter a life stage where they are at risk of experiencing numerous medical complications due to advancement in age. Respiratory conditions are especially common for older patients. This is why the field of pulmonology has become so lucrative for those wishing to pursue a career in specialized medicine.
The Chicago pulmonologist medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC appreciate the importance of these specialists. Yet, it is necessary to hold them accountable for the harm their actions may do to the patients under their care. If you or a loved one was injured or killed as a result of pulmonology malpractice, we invite you to contact our office for a free case review.
Training Required to Pursue a Career as a Pulmonologist
Anyone seeking a career in pulmonology must first complete their degree in medicine or osteopathy. Then, they can enter a three-year to a four-year residency program in internal medicine. During their residency, many doctors acquire the knowledge and skills they need to form a baseline of experience in the specialties they may pursue at a later time. Residency programs have the added benefit of allowing new doctors access to paid hands-on training. After completing residency, pulmonologists enter a fellowship program that could last two years or longer.
During their fellowship program, pulmonologists work specifically with patients suffering from a wide range of respiratory conditions under the tutelage of experienced and established members of the field. There are further subspecialties that students may pursue during their fellowship. Some subspecialties require residencies in other forms of medicine— such as pediatric pulmonology, which requires a residency in pediatric internal medicine.
While it is possible for many pulmonologists to invest as many as fifteen years in their education and training, they are well paid for their efforts. The average salary offered to pulmonology recruits in 2012 was over $320,000 per year, making the profession one of the top-paid medical specialties in the United States. Whenever doctors command such lucrative pay, our Chicago pulmonology malpractice lawyers feel that this benefit should be paired with high expectations for accuracy and quality of care.
Responsibilities of Pulmonologists and the Procedures Used to Diagnose Respiratory Disease
Obstructive pulmonary diseases such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema can seem to strike people at random, putting their lives in danger in an instant. While it may seem as though these conditions develop randomly, the American Lung Association believes that as many as 25 million people living in the United States are suffering from one of these diseases and that many of them are not aware of it due to the mildness of symptoms or lack of symptoms altogether. It is when these serious conditions continue to go unnoticed and untreated that they can be triggered at random and force patients into the hospital for emergency treatment.
Pulmonologists are responsible for diagnosing many respiratory conditions and for educating their patients on how to manage symptoms, avoid attacks and live healthier lives. They are also instrumental in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, which is one of the most dangerous forms of cancer. One-quarter of all cancer deaths in the country are attributed to lung cancer, and early diagnosis is instrumental in providing a positive prognosis.
The types of procedures and tests that pulmonologists may perform to diagnose and treat patients with include the following.
- Chest x-rays — an x-ray is an effective tool for determining whether the lungs or heart are not functioning properly due to internal changes, such as cancer or inflammation. It might be the first of a series of tests that are ordered, depending on the result of the x-ray and what other information is needed to determine a diagnosis.
- Chest ultrasounds — ultrasounds use sound waves to create a computerized image for doctors of the lungs and heart in real time so that they can see how they are functioning and identify any abnormalities or weaknesses.
- CT scans — when x-rays don’t provide sufficient information to form a diagnosis, the pulmonologist may order a CT scan which provides a much more detailed picture of the area. These scans are also able to take pictures from multiple angles at once so that doctors can detect abnormalities that would otherwise be missed by a traditional x-ray.
- Polysomnograms — these tests are performed on patients while they sleep to detect a number of respiratory disorders. Some of the conditions may be linked to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and the patients are monitored throughout each sleep stage to detect problems in breathing patterns that could be attributed to obstructions in the lungs or airway.
- Bronchoscopy— during this test, a very thin tube is inserted into the lungs; which allows the doctor to see into the airways of the lungs. It can detect inflammation and blockages caused by conditions such as bronchitis, asthma or emphysema.
- Chest fluoroscopies— these procedures use x-rays to create images of the lungs, bronchi, windpipe, nose, and throat so that doctors can determine the exact location of a problem or gather the information needed to decide whether further testing is needed.
- Peak flow measurements— one of the first tests performed to determine the need for further examination, a peak flow measurement is a quick and easy test that measures the ability of the lungs to move air into and out of the lungs. Patients blow into a tube while attempting to raise or keep an object in place while the device measures output.
- Pulse oximetry— this very simple test helps doctors determine blood oxygen levels. When patients are exhibiting lower oxygen levels than normal, it can signal the need to perform more tests to determine why the lungs are not delivering enough oxygen to the blood.
- Biopsies— in order to detect cancer, a biopsy may be performed to remove a sample of the tissue located in a potential problem area so that the doctor can determine whether the abnormality is cancerous, a benign tumor or something else. Biopsies can be taken from the lungs or the pleura, which is the membrane found on the outside of the lungs.
- Thoracentesis— this procedure allows doctors to drain excess fluid or air from the lungs in an effort to help restore proper function.
- Removal of lungs— there are multiple surgical procedures available where pulmonologists can remove parts of the lung or extract it entirely. These procedures are often performed due to the spread of cancer cells and may keep them from spreading further by removing cancer and lung together while monitoring the other lung during and following recovery.
Pulmonary Malpractice is Often Attributed to the Delayed or Missed Diagnosis of Conditions
It is possible for patients suffering from obstructive pulmonary diseases to manage their symptoms and avoid triggering attacks as long as they are instructed properly on how to and when to take medication and how to avoid placing themselves at risk. It is also possible for those with certain cancers to survive after receiving a prompt diagnosis and treatment. For this reason, some of the injuries and deaths that result from respiratory illnesses can be due to the negligent actions of physicians.
The following are some examples of negligent choices a pulmonologist might make while diagnosing or treating a patient.
- The doctor fails to order diagnostic tests for a patient exhibiting symptoms of a serious respiratory condition and the patient experiences an inflammatory attack at a later date that results in serious injuries or death.
- Upon receiving test results, the doctor doesn’t communicate properly with the specialist performing the tests and misinterprets the results. This could result in a false negative test result when the patient is in the early stages of cancer. The delayed diagnosis results in the spread of cancer, requiring more drastic measures to ensure survival or resulting in the death of the patient.
- After reviewing inconclusive test results, the doctor fails to order a biopsy or imaging scan that could provide a more definitive diagnosis of the condition, allowing the condition to worsen.
- The doctor identifies a respiratory condition but doesn’t take the time to make sure the patient understands the prescribed treatment program. This can result in improper administration of medication or failing to avoid triggers due to a lack of understanding.
- When presented with symptoms that could represent a risk of an obstructive pulmonary disorder, the pulmonologist doesn’t follow up with the patient. The patient later dies when his airways become inflamed in an attack, which would have been prevented through monitoring and treatment.
While it is completely human to make mistakes, our Chicago pulmonology malpractice lawyers believe that doctors should make things right when their errors result in harm to those that they are responsible for treating.
Sample Pulmonology Malpractice Awards & Settlements
$1,000,000 Verdict; Pulmonology Malpractice; Will County, Illinois
The patient in this dispute was a female in her early sixties. She visited her primary physician for a consult related to an upcoming cataract surgery. The woman had several pre-existing conditions including health effects related to long-term smoking. To ensure she was healthy enough for the operation, the doctor ordered tests. He also referred the woman to a pulmonologist. During that trip, she had x-rays done. The crux of this case was that those x-ray results showed a cancerous mass. However, that finding was never disclosed to the woman. She went fourteen months without ever knowing she had cancer. That delay allowed the cancer to spread making surgery impossible and chemotherapy necessary. Yet, she passed away from the illness anyways. The estate sued the doctors involved and the facilities she visited. The defendants mostly pointed the finger at each other. Yet, they could not deny that their combined acts removed her chances of survival and contributed to her passing. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $1 million because of that undeniable fact-$600,000 for lost society; $150,000 for medical bills; $150,000 for pain; and $100,000 for lost normal life.
$5,420,950 Verdict; Pulmonology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
This lawsuit involved a pulmonology issue. The affected patient was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma. The disease had already advanced to Stage III. One of the drugs in the treatment include Bleomycin. Doctors conducted a lab study to see if the Bleomycin was harming her. It is possible for that drug to cause inflammation, scarring, and carbon dioxide intoxication. However, the attending doctor never asked for and read that lab report. That report indicated the Bleomycin was harming her. She returned two weeks later for another round of treatment. A different doctor spotted the issue and took her off the drug. Unfortunately, it was too late. She died from complications related to the Bleomycin intoxication and respiratory failure. The estate sued the doctors and hospital. They argued that the defendants should have read the reports, conveyed the results, and taken her off the drug. The defendants alleged she could have died from something else. Also, they claimed her symptoms did not show in time to warrant suspicion of Bleomycin toxicity. The jury found fault with this reasoning and with the defendants’ actions. They awarded the plaintiffs $5,420,950 for the wrongful death of the woman. Of that compensation, $65,365 was for medical bills; $500,000 was for suffering; $100,000 was for lost normal life; $13,260 was for funeral bills; and $4,742,325 was for lost society.
$5,000,000 Verdict; Pulmonology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
This case involved an infant. He was taken to this hospital roughly seven months after he was born by his parents. He had breathing issues. Doctors diagnosed it as a respiratory virus. They intubated him and put him on a ventilator. At some point, he became dehydrated. Also, he was refusing the ventilator. Doctors used a paralytic agent and administered other treatments. However, they did not realize the tube became dislodged. This meant he was not receiving oxygen for roughly forty-five minutes. He suffered lung damage, brain damage, and other consequences due to the oxygen deprivation. Now, he lives in a permanent vegetative state. He cannot walk or assist himself. He requires round-the-clock care. Doctors also predict his life expectancy to be reduced from the incident as well. His parents sued the hospital and treating physicians. They claimed the defendants did not monitor the child well enough, treat him well enough including improper use of the breathing tube, or train their staff well enough to care for the boy among other allegations. The defendants denied the tube was misplaced for as long as the plaintiffs claimed. Further, they replied that the complications resulted from the boy’s illness rather than the dislodged tube. Neither side agreed to settle prior to trial. The jury awarded the family $5 million-$3.2 million for future care and $1.8 million for medical bills.
$4,016,929 Verdict; Pulmonology Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
A nine-year-old boy got sick in this case, so his parents took him to the emergency room. He was throwing up. He would not eat. He could not stop cough. His chest hurt and he had a fever. The ER doctor thought it was pneumonia. He put him on a course of medications to treat that. He had the child admitted to the hospital for further evaluation. The attending doctor discovered lesions in his lung that could mean he had something other than pneumonia. Nevertheless, this information was not relayed, and the boy was discharged. A little over one month later, he came back with his parents. The pain had not subsided despite the prescriptions. Doctors discovered that they were wrong in their pulmonary diagnosis. The boy actually had blastomycosis. It had spread all over his body in the preceding weeks and months. It would not respond to treatment. He died less than a week later from the illness. His parents sued for negligence and wrongful death. They faulted the defendants for failed diagnosis, miscommunication, and substandard treatment. All of these errors limited the boy’s ability to fight the sickness and survive they claimed. The defendants responded that they treated him within the relevant standard of care. They also said that the symptoms complained of did not present until well later limiting their ability to treat him properly. That implied admission of fault may have been what did them in. A jury found for the family and awarded them more than $4 million. Of that total, $3 million was for wrongful death; $1 million was for suffering; and the rest was for medical, funeral, burial expenses.
Effective Pulmonologist Malpractice Lawyers
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is dedicated to defending the interests of the injured. That is why our medical malpractice legal team is comprised of attorneys who specialize in medical law. We have secured compensation on behalf of thousands of people just like you. Their injuries were due to the failure of their trusted physicians to meet their required duty of care. If you believe that your injuries or the loss of a loved one was due to negligent care, we would like to review your case.
Contact us today to be connected with one of our award-winning Chicago pulmonologist medical malpractice attorneys. We can collect the information we need to investigate your claim and review your legal options with you. All of our attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning you will never need to provide upfront fees to retain our services and we will not accept payment until we have secured compensation on your behalf.