Rheumatology is the study and treatment of diseases and medical conditions that effect the joints, musculoskeletal system, and internal organs. Specialists in this field are in high demand— with less than 4,000 practicing rheumatologists in the United States and over 50 million people suffering from some rheumatic condition. Their ability to diagnose and treat conditions in a timely fashion can make a marked difference in the quality of living their patient's experience. Yet, their failure to perform can have equally devastating consequences. The Chicago rheumatologist medical malpractice attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC work tirelessly on behalf of those who have been injured due to their negligent care.
The Path to Becoming a Practicing Rheumatologist
Medical specialists need to dedicate over a decade of their lives to obtain the education and skills to practice in their desired specialty. Aspiring rheumatologists must begin by completing a degree in medicine or osteopathy. Then, they must decide whether they plan to enter a residency program in internal medicine or pediatrics. Residency programs normally last three years. They help doctors acquire real-world experience working with patients that are suffering from a broad range of ailments.
Those who complete their residencies in pediatrics can move on to a fellowship program in pediatric rheumatology. Those who chose to work in internal medicine can complete a similar program in general rheumatology. Fellowship programs last for two to three years. They pair doctors with experienced mentors who can guide them as they work with patients suffering from rheumatic conditions.
There are two different board certifications rheumatologists can acquire, both of which will allow them to acquire work more easily and at a higher rate of pay. The first certification is in internal medicine. The second certification is in the specific field of rheumatology. Both certifications are completed and maintained through real-world experience and extensive testing. After passing the certification test, a rheumatologist will need to commit to continued education and routine recertification in the future.
An average rheumatologist makes over $215,000 per year and has the opportunity to make much more through membership in renowned medical associations and positive references. In the event that one of these specialists makes a mistake that causes undue injury to a patient, it is important that he or she provides compensation to cover the costs of making things right. Our Chicago rheumatology malpractice lawyers have access to experts in economics and medicine who can accurately value our clients’ cases in order to make sure that the compensation received truly covers the financial and emotional impact of the injury.
How Rheumatologists Help Patients Suffering From Musculoskeletal Disorders
There are currently over 100 known disorders that affect the muscles, bones, and joints. Many of these problems are difficult to diagnose in a timely fashion. The reason for this is that they tend to be progressive and doctors mistake their early symptoms for less serious conditions. A patient may be referred to a rheumatologist if a primary care physician or other specialist feels that more information is needed to form an accurate diagnosis. Patients also see rheumatologists if the patient’s current treatment plan is not yielding the desired result.
The most common conditions that rheumatologists treat include the following.
- Lupus — while there is no cure for this condition, there are ways doctors can help patients manage symptoms in the hope of living more productive and satisfying lives. Lupus can affect numerous systems throughout the body, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain. Patients often feel joint pain and fever while suffering from fevers and rashes. Rheumatologists can help by addressing issues such as diet and lifestyle while prescribing medications to help limit the chances of flare-ups.
- Arthritis — there are numerous forms of arthritis and many people experience some form of it during their lives due to age. By definition, it is the inflammation of joints that causes pain, limited range of motion and stiffness. In addition to being the product of aging, it can also result from injuries or autoimmune disorders. When it becomes a chronic condition, a rheumatologist may be consulted for treatment options.
- Osteoporosis — our bodies naturally absorb bone tissue over time, but it is replaced with new tissue as quickly as the old tissue is absorbed into the body. Osteoporosis is a common disorder that results from the over absorption of bone tissue and most commonly impacts older patients. Due to weakening bones, those suffering from osteoporosis are more likely to fracture their bones and many are never aware of their conditions until a fracture occurs.
- Tendonitis — tendons are the tissues that connect muscle to bone and they may become inflamed due to repetitive use or minor trauma, resulting in tendonitis. In some cases, it may be the result of a more serious accident or poor treatment of a fracture.
- Sjögren's Syndrome — commonly linked with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, this condition causes the body’s immune system to attack the glands responsible for the production of tears and saliva. Patients may experience extremely dry eyes or have difficulty eating due to a lack of saliva. Treatment options include medications, eye drops, and surgical intervention.
- Gout — this extremely painful form of arthritis occurs when uric acid accumulates in the blood and makes its way into the joints before crystallizing. The tiny sharp crystals can damage the joint and cause sudden and immense pain. These attacks are most common in the big toe and sufferers can experience agonizing pain for days or weeks until the crystals liquefy and are removed from the blood through the urine. Gout sufferers can reduce the likelihood of attacks through changes in diet and a rheumatologist may prescribe medications to regulate uric acid levels.
- Nerve impingements — a nerve impingement occurs when a major nerve is pinched or squeezed due to conditions such as sciatica or carpal tunnel syndrome. The impingement results in severe pain and may also affect motor function.
Since many of these conditions progress slowly, it can be possible for doctors to misdiagnose or fail to diagnose a disease until it has had the opportunity to worsen. They also tend to impact multiple organs and systems, requiring counsel from more than one specialist when forming a treatment plan. A rheumatologist can help by reviewing patients’ medical histories and ordering diagnostic tests to detect abnormalities in antibody production, inflammatory response and visual indicators of diseases.
The tests rheumatologists order may include an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and blood panel. Since many of the conditions being treated are chronic, they play an important role in educating patients concerning their illnesses and helping them make better lifestyle choices while managing their symptoms through physical therapy, medication and surgery.
Causes and Forms of Rheumatology Medical Malpractice
The most common cause of medical malpractice claims against rheumatologists is a delay in diagnosis and treatment. These errors result in the worsening of conditions and life-threatening complications. As stated before, many rheumatic diseases present with similar symptoms and may not be easy to diagnose initially. This is why doctors need to be more thorough when acquiring information. Here are the most common ways rheumatologists can act in a negligent manner.
- Failing to order the appropriate tests. Misdiagnosis and failure to diagnosis stem from a lack of information and many patients are injured when their doctors formulate a treatment plan for the wrong condition. Prescribing medication or insisting on surgery for the wrong disease can result in adverse reactions.
- Failure to diagnose lupus. Since patients suffering from lupus can develop blood clots, experience neurological disorders and suffer from related cardiovascular disease, it is important they are diagnosed in a timely fashion. The failure to do so can prove deadly.
- Use of alternative medicine. Many patients are being guided into treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy and herbal remedies. These are not clinically proven to have any success. When discussing these treatment options, it is important that patients are aware that they are alternative treatment measures and have no scientific evidence to back their effectiveness.
- Medication errors. Prescribing the wrong medication can exacerbate a rheumatic condition. Whether due to misdiagnosis, failure of the doctor to consider drug interaction or dosage errors, the impact on the patient’s health can be catastrophic.
- Failure to refer patient to another specialist. Many rheumatic diseases impact many areas of the body. Other specialists may need to be consulted when forming a treatment plan or considering surgical options. If a rheumatologist doesn’t refer a patient to a more qualified specialist where appropriate, it could be considered negligent.
Sample Rheumatology Malpractice Lawsuit Verdicts & Settlements
$4,473,527 JURY AWARD; RHEUMATOLOGY MALPRACTICE; COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS
This case took place in a few different hospitals over several months in 2011. The location was Chicago and the suburbs of Chicago. The plaintiff presented to a rheumatologist. She was in her mid-30s. She had many symptoms including foot drop, fever, and speech impairment among others. The doctor diagnosed her and began treating her for lupus and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APLS). Over the course of the next few months, her symptoms worsened. She saw more doctors including the original rheumatologist, but things did not get better. She even had to enter a nursing home for constant care. Eventually, physicians discovered she had HIV. She complained that this misdiagnosis and delay in treatment caused her many problems such as loss of motor function, HIV encephalopathy, incontinence, slurred speech, gait imbalance, nausea, and pneumonia among others. She blamed this on the rheumatologist and some of her other doctors. They argued that she could have had HIV and APLS and lupus. Also, the HIV could have come about after she left their care and entered the nursing home. Plus, they showed that she saw many other doctors and none of them identified the HIV. Unable to resolve the matter amicably, the dispute was put to trial. The jury found for the plaintiff. They awarded her $2,650,000 for disability; $1,750,000 for pain and suffering; and $73,527 for medical bills.
$801,564 JURY AWARD; RHEUMATOLOGY MALPRACTICE; COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS
A family brought this action after their loved one passed away. She was in her mid-70s during the relevant events. Her doctors had her transferred to a local hospital. She needed to be treated for her various symptoms including arthritis, hypertension, and diabetes. Later, her family lawyers contended that she complained of hip pain and in fact had a broken hip. Yet, doctors did not check for this. Subsequently, she was transferred to a nursing home. However, her pain and complaints only increased until staff finally checked the issue. They discovered a broken hip. She was immediately transferred back to the hospital for surgery. While in recovery at that facility, her lawyers maintained that she developed bed sores that needed debridement and caused her pain for the last years of her life. Lawyers for the family sued the rheumatologist (for failed diagnosis) and the other treating doctors. They sought compensation for medical bills as well as for the pain and suffering she experienced. The defendants replied that they did the best they could, she did not comply with their instructions, and other factors contributed to the broken bones and bed sores. In the end, the jury found with the plaintiff. They received $801,564 after the original amount was lowered by 40% for contributory negligence: $500,000 for suffering and pain; $375,000 for lost normal life; $300,940 for medical bills; $60,000 for emotional trauma; $100,000 for disfigurement.
$750,000 SETTLEMENT; RHEUMATOLOGY MALPRACTICE; COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS
This case largely involved a patient misunderstanding. She was in her mid-70s and seeing a rheumatologist for various reasons. Eventually, doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. In fact, it was metastasizing. She died just a few months after that diagnosis. Lawyers for the woman’s estate sued the rheumatologist. They claimed he should have diagnosed the issue earlier and referred her for further testing including mammograms. The defendant’s main objection to this case was he was merely a rheumatologist. In his estimation, his duties did not encompass what the plaintiffs claimed. Yet, as the matter wore on, his beliefs did not prevent him from settling. The estate received $750,000.
$3,000,000 SETTLEMENT; RHEUMATOLOGY MALPRACTICE; COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS
The victim in this case saw a rheumatologist for a number of years. About four years into his consultations, the doctor prescribed a certain medication. That medication, when mixed with tuberculosis, could prove deadly. In fact, the patient was from a high-risk area for TB (India) and had TB. The rheumatologist did not check whether the man had TB or whether he was from a place where that was common. He prescribed the medication without checking this or similar issues. As a consequence of taking the medications with pre-existing TB, he developed fulminant disseminated TB. He died from this development. His wife and children survived him. They brought a wrongful death action against the rheumatologist and the rheumatologist’s employer. They claimed wrongful death damages, medical bills exceeding $250,000, and lost wages exceeding $400,000 among other losses. They claimed the rheumatologist was negligent for failing to check whether the man had TB. The defendants did not pursue the matter in trial. They agreed to settle and end the litigation. Each defendant compensated the plaintiffs with $1.5 million.
Let Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers Review Your Rheumatologist Error Case for Free
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC has helped thousands of clients recover the compensation they deserve for injuries they suffered due to medical negligence. If you believe you have been injured due to misdiagnosis or a medical error, we may be able to help you determine whether you have a case. We can also connect you to quality medical specialists that can provide you the medical and rehabilitative care you need to facilitate your physical recovery.
Contact us today to be connected with one of our award-winning Chicago rheumatologist medical malpractice attorneys so that we can collect the information we need to evaluate your case. Once we have conducted our own investigation into the matter, we can advise you concerning your legal options and what you can expect from the process of litigation. Since we work solely on a contingency basis, you are assured that if we are unable to help you secure the compensation you are entitled to, our services will be free of charge.