Taylor Lynne Trentwood, Ph.d|
A “Douglas Diagnosis”: medical error spotlighted by Michael Douglas’s experience.
As we heartily rejoice that Michael Douglas reports that he is feeling better and that his chemo-therapy treatment is completed, we must mourn for another “Douglas Diagnosis ”.
A Douglas Diagnosis is when the ill patient is informed by one or more doctors that “nothing is wrong” for months followed by an excruciating diagnosis that they entirely missed on all previous visits .
This particular tragic error ended in death, reported today, for 44 year old mother Angela Skeffengton. Michael is beloved , wealthy , admired and famous while Angela is an ordinary, largely unknown , citizen. However, that makes this case not one bit less important in its crucial comment on current states of great numbers of medical errors . Such errors are now documented to be responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 every year in America alone. There are no documented and entirely accuate figures available on a world or country wide basis .
Angela’s doctors , all twelve of them, told her that she was anorexic and depressed while she continually lost weight from cancer. She told her family that the doctors ,in the past five months , treated her badly and her precise statement was “I was made to feel like a nuisance by ALL (emphasis added) of the doctors”
The question of attributing on going, continual and disturbing symptoms to stress disorders is gaining a tremendous amount of public attention these days. So many physicians attribute a patients reports , their “complaints” as doctors like to refer to them, as stress related that it is now being spotlighted as a medical error of enormous proportion. Ignoring symptoms or deigning them as an emotional problem must be re-visited as a ranking cause of medical- error deaths . So many tens of thousands of Americans die needlessly due to errors by medical professionals and hospital errors that perhaps we have become too complacent in the matter.
There are other issues also that must be addressed. There is the related matter of how Angela . Skeffenton was treated by all of her doctors . Patient respect is high on the list of public concerns these days. It is a well- known pattern that when the physician feels that the symptoms are emotionally based , a quick dismissal usually follows. It is meant to deter future visits, possibly. It also serves the purpose of being able to note some reason in the chart for what is not treated. As a one time method , it may be very well justified . Yet in the two cases under discussion in this column , the repeated visits and persistent problems make it both dangerous and preposterous as a logical course of “treatment”.
Until the public demands a new pattern of interaction with those professionals who hold their very lives and the lives of their children in hand, nothing is going to be different in the future. If the New York specialists, all seven of them, told Mr. Michael Douglas that there was nothing wrong with him and 12 different physicians diagnosed Ms. Skeffengton as “depressed “, what does that say to the non-famous , non-wealthy, non-influential public? Confidence in medicine is reaching a low point following these now all to common tragic events.
The last line of this report is that the symptoms reported by Angela included loss of appetite but also blood in vomit, bowels and severe stomach pain. It is very difficult to understand how such classic signs of stomach cancer were attributed to “depression”.
The message for the general public appears to be that if symptoms are ongoing and yet dismissed, that persistence as well as vociferous outrage is your best hope of being correctly diagnosed and treated.
The Heartlands hospital will not discuss the matter citing privacy but their official spokesperson offers their “apologies”
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