Otolaryngologists specialize in the treatment of diseases and disorders of the ears, nose and throat and are commonly referred to as ear, nose and throat doctors, or ENTs. In addition to the ears, nose and throat, they may also diagnose conditions affecting the head or neck. It is extremely important for ENTs to provide prompt medical care through quick and accurate diagnosis because many of the conditions they treat can cause serious harm if left unmanaged. The Chicago ENT medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC fight on behalf of those who were injured due to the negligence of their doctors.
The Path Required to Become an ENT
On average, it can require around 13 years of training before someone can become an ENT. The educational requirements include a degree in medicine or osteopathy, completion of a residency program followed by the completion of a fellowship program. While most residency programs are three years or less, the residency for an ENT lasts five years and will provide hands-on experience in diagnosing illnesses, performing surgical procedures and conducting medical research.
After completing their residency programs, ENTs have the choice to enter a fellowship in the areas of neurology or sleep medicine or to further specialize in specialties such as pediatric otolaryngology, reconstructive surgery, rhinology, laryngology or the treatment of head and neck cancers. On average, ENTs will earn over $337,000 per year. Our Chicago ENT malpractice lawyers believe that the benefits of a career in specialized medicine come with accountability to the patients harmed through errors in judgment and medical errors.
Ear Nose and Throat Doctors are in High Demand
Studies have reported that nearly 20 million people in the United States will visit an ENT every year, with conditions ranging from sinus infections and allergies to cancers of the throat or mouth. Around one in five Americans will also require the services of an ENT due to some form of hearing loss in their lives as well. Most of the conditions they treat are minor, but others are far more complex.
Following are some of the most common conditions an ENT will diagnose and treat.
- Sinus infections — chronic sinusitis impacts over 33 million people in the United States every year. While the treatment of sinus infections is simple, they are often misdiagnosed as allergies. When this happens, the infection can spread to the brain and cause permanent loss of cognitive function.
- Nasal obstructions — conditions such as sleep apnea and deviated septum cause an interruption in airflow to the lungs, which could be fatal. ENTs will diagnose and treat these conditions through recommended changes in lifestyle, medications and surgical procedures.
- Allergies — seasonal allergies can be debilitating and ENTs can help patients by determining which substances trigger allergic reactions and prescribing medications to reduce the severity of symptoms.
- Ear infections — many of the conditions that impact the inner ear present with the same symptoms, such as loss of balance or dizziness. An ear infection that is left untreated can migrate to the brain or cause permanent damage to the inner ear, which may forever impact balance, hearing, and orientation.
- Hearing loss — ENTs will help patients suffering from hearing loss identify the cause of the hearing loss and find ways of treating the problem, from recommending hearing aids to the surgical implantation of cochlear implants.
- Tinnitus — people who hear a ringing or buzzing sound when there is no actual sound are suffering from tinnitus, which scientists believe to be caused by damage to the inner ear. The causes can range from progressive damage caused by listening to loud music or working around loud machinery to being the result of sudden trauma.
- Tonsillitis — over 530,000 children have their tonsils removed every year. The procedure is performed when the tonsils become inflamed or infected and antibiotic treatment is considered ineffective. In many cases, they are removed because the doctor determines the tonsils are at high risk of becoming infected again.
- Conditions of the esophagus — the esophagus carries food to the stomach from the mouth and is prone to irritation due to conditions such as acid reflux and GERD. ENTs may also treat conditions such as esophageal cancer.
- Congenital defects — some birth defects can have a negative impact on the ears, sinuses or nose and may require surgical intervention. ENTs also treat facial deformities through plastic surgery.
- Reconstructive surgery — ENTs are also able to repair damage to the ears, nose, and throat occurring due to an accident or physical trauma.
- Cancer — an ear nose and throat doctor can diagnose and treat a range of cancers, from cancers of the mouth and throat to cancer located on the neck or inside the head. ENTs are equipped to remove tumors and may do so if required while working with other cancer specialists to minimize the chance cancer will return.
Conditions impacting the ears, nose or throat have such potential to become life-threatening due to their proximity to the brain. Something as minor as a sinus infection can quickly spread to the ears and then the brain. As time passes, the infection may cause irreversible brain damage.
ENT Malpractice Cases Come Down to Diagnostic Failures
A study of malpractice cases involving ENT doctors has revealed that missed and failed diagnoses are linked in some way to the majority of cases. Many of the diseases that affect the sinuses present with similar symptoms, so it is really easy for a doctor to write an infection off as allergies or to prescribe antibiotics to a patient suffering from seasonal allergies. Here are the most common causes of malpractice and the potential injuries that may result.
- Missed diagnosis. Failure to diagnose can be catastrophic regardless of medical specialty. In the event an ENT misses a diagnosis, the patient may suffer from brain damage, the metastasis of cancer, permanent hearing loss or the spread of an infection to the lungs or the blood.
- Failure to order tests. The propensity for medical conditions to present similar symptoms highlights the need for doctors to order diagnostic testing when appropriate so they can confirm their diagnosis prior to proceeding with a treatment plan. Imaging scans such as CT scans and MRIs can provide insight when a doctor is unsure or the available information is inconclusive.
- Misinterpretation of test results. The primary cause for a misinterpretation in results is poor communication between the doctor ordering the tests and the person returning the results. When doctors communicate effectively with one another, they are more likely to discover discrepancies in test results can identify errors.
- Unneeded surgeries. A wrong diagnosis can result in an unwarranted surgical procedure that may cause additional harm.
- Surgical errors. The potential for harm is great when operating near the head or neck because of how quickly the brain can be deprived of oxygen when something goes wrong. Airways can become obstructed and major nerves damaged if the surgeon cuts in the wrong location. In some cases, surgical errors may result in a permanent hearing loss.
- Failure to refer patients to other specialists. Some issues may be beyond the scope of an ENT’s ability or knowledge. Recognizing when a different specialist is needed and making the referring can make a huge difference in the outcome.
- Poor communication with patients concerning their treatment options and role in the treatment process. It is critical that patients are educated concerning their diagnosis and are briefed on what they can expect so that they can do what is needed to improve their own recovery processes.
- Failure to prevent infection. All surgical procedures carry the risk of exposing patients to pathogens during and following the operation. Preventative measures need to be taken to reduce the risk of an infection and it is imperative that doctors follow up with their patients on a regular basis so that they may detect symptoms of an infection in its early stages.
Early diagnosis and strong communication skills are the pillars of effective medical treatment. Many of the conditions that are misdiagnosed or receive delays in treatment are more easily identified when doctors take the time to ask questions, review medical histories and listen to their patients.
ENT Malpractice Awards
$975,000 Verdict; ENT Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The patient in this case was a woman in her early forties. She saw an ENT doctor because something became lodged in her ear. She needed the physician to remove it. The doctor tried several attempts. He also used different methods and instruments including forceps, loop device, and a drill. Eventually, he was able to remove most of the foreign object, but he also damaged her eardrum. The woman lost all hearing in that ear and suffered dizziness, facial pain, and other effects. The doctor and representatives of the facility where it occurred claimed that most of these symptoms were pre-existing and due to her cerebral palsy. Also, they argued that since the foreign object was so densely woven into her ear, there was nothing they could do. The woman claimed in court that the effects were due to the negligence of the ENT doctor. Further, she said that a reasonable ENT doctor would not have operated this way. A jury agreed with her and awarded her $975,000. Of that amount, $350,000 was for lost normal life; $225,000 was for pain and suffering; $300,000 was for emotional trauma; and $100,000 was for disfigurement.
$12,000,000 Settlement; ENT Malpractice; Cook County, Illinois
The facts of this case might seem germane, but they unraveled terribly. In late 2008, a man in his late twenties went to and ENT doctor on a number of occasions over a two-week period. His sinuses were bothering him, and he had constant headaches. The ENT doctor performed a CT-scan of the sinuses and diagnosed it as sinusitis. The patient asked for a brain CT-scan, but the doctors demurred. They said it was unnecessary. However, he persisted. Eventually, they did that scan. It showed abscesses in the lobes of his brain. They came from an infection stemming in the sinuses and spread into his cerebrospinal fluid. Massive brain damage ensued as well as debilitating mental handicaps. He sued after these developments. His lawsuit argued an earlier diagnosis and CT-scan would have prevented this. It also cited the ENT doctor with a number of other failures. The defendant physician and defendant facility preferred to settle as their fault was obvious. The man received $12 million for his losses including lost wages, long-term care, medical bills, pain, disability, and similar harms.
$1,110,000 Settlement; ENT Malpractice; Indiana
The plaintiff in this ENT lawsuit was forty-three. He needed to undergo a sinus operation. The ENT doctor that performed the operation was not aware that the patient had a defect in his skull. The physician proceeded with the surgery anyways. Consequently, the man sustained an abscess in his brain. That gave him seizure disorder as well as sensory loss in his nose and mouth. He sued the ENT doctor that did the surgery as well as the facility where it took place. He alleged the defendants were negligent in their performance of the operation. Further, he added that this negligence directly caused his damages including physical pain, handicap, long-term suffering, lost normal life, medical bills, and lost wages. The defendants filed a reply but did not press the matter in court. The plaintiff recovered more than $1 million in settlement. Of that figure, $250,000 was paid by the defendant doctor. The rest was paid by the state’s compensation fund.
$837,000 Verdict; ENT Malpractice; La Salle, Illinois
A forty-nine-year-old man brought this action after undergoing a sinus operation. His sinuses were obstructed so an ENT doctor was going to perform surgery to clear them. The doctor used a micro-debrider to do so but punctured the man’s eye muscle in the process. This caused blood and other substances to run into his eye. The error had several side-effects and complications. However, the ENT doctor did not notice or treat any of them. The man sued the doctor for this development. He argued this left him disabled and unable to work full time. The plaintiff claimed permanent double vision among other damages. The defendant ENT doctor replied that this was a known risk. Also, he said he did not cause it. A jury believed he did though. It awarded the man $837,000-$337,000 for lost wages; $250,000 for pain; and $250,000 for disability.
What to Expect From an ENT Malpractice Case
If you were injured while under your doctor’s care and you believe that he or she did not act in a reasonable manner, you may be able to file a claim for medical malpractice. In order to do so, you need to be able to prove that any other reasonable ENT would have acted in a different manner under similar circumstances. One of the ways effective attorneys can do this is to bring in medical experts during their investigation to determine what went wrong and who was responsible.
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC has a successful track record when it comes to recovering compensation on behalf of those injured due to medical negligence. Our resources and access to medical experts allow us to determine the duty of care your doctor is required to uphold and what actions or decisions resulted in a breach of that responsibility so that we can hold your doctor liable for the cost of your medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering and out of pocket expenses.
Contact us today to be connected with an awaraward-winningcago ENT medical malpractice attorney so that we can gather all of the information we need to get to work on your behalf. Once we have had the opportunity to review your claim, we will be able to go over your legal options and answer all of your questions. Should we be unable to secure damages in your favor, our services will be free of charge.