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Medical malpractice: Woman's Pap tests misread for 5 years

When it comes to medical care, most Massachusetts residents trust in the education and training of the health care providers from whom we seek treatment. We believe that our health care system is among the best in the world, and that our doctors are among the most qualified. However, every so often a medical malpractice story makes headlines, and the details cause us to question the quality of care that we often take for granted.

A woman has recently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against a pathologist, eight other doctors, a hospital's pathology lab and the hospital itself. The basis of the claim is the fact that despite having obtained regular Pap smear screenings for at least the past five years, the woman was ultimately diagnosed with cervical cancer. An independent review of the slides from those screenings is believed to show an obvious progression from normal cells to those that exhibit signs of cervical cancer.

The tests were all processed through the pathology lab of one hospital, and by one pathologist. While the slides showed abnormal cells, the woman was never sent for additional testing. Such testing could have prompted doctors to treat the cancer at an earlier stage, which can have a significant impact on the ultimate effectiveness of various forms of treatment.

As a result of this lawsuit, the hospital has agreed to send at least 500 additional slides out for independent screening. If there is an issue with tests being routinely misread at the facility, it is hoped that such a review will reveal a pattern and allow those individuals to be properly diagnosed. The woman at the center of this lawsuit has received treatment for her cancer and has responded well. A successful outcome to her medical malpractice suit could not only help her to offset the costs of her ongoing medical treatment, but could also save the lives of others who may have been misdiagnosed, in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Washington Hospital reviewing hundreds of Pap tests after lawsuit," Sean D. Hamill , Nov. 16, 2012

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