Podiatry Malpractice

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People often overlook the field of podiatry.  That is until they have an issue with the foot.

This, of course, can be costly.  We tend to undervalue the role that healthy feet play in our day to day comfort, and therefore until something goes wrong we don't give it much thought.

As with all areas of medicine, there are good and bad podiatrists.  Most DPM's (Doctors of Podiatric Medicine) go about their practices without incident.

If, however, you have dealt with poor podiatric care, you likely know how severe the consequences can be.

NEW YORK STATE PODIATRY MALPRACTICE LAWYERS

Despite the consolidation of much of medicine into large health care organizations, podiatry remains on the outside.  Most podiatrists, in our experience, operate on their own in small offices around New York State. 

Now, this can be a good thing.  The level of care that one receives at a small practice can be much more personal than one receives at a large, institutional practice.  The one-on-one time with the podiatrist can be more meaningful.

It can also be a problem.  Solo podiatrists can find themselves trying to do too much, paying too little attention to detail, and struggling with income.  This is when mistakes happen.

Common Examples of Podiatric Malpractice

Improperly diagnosed condition.

Podiatrists see patients clinically, which means the patient comes to them with a battery of symptoms and rely on the podiatrist to effectively diagnose and treat the condition or refer them to someone who can. 

The importance of the initial office visit cannot be overstated.  It is critical that the podiatrist take a thorough history from the patient, including past problems and current problems.  If the patient has complaints about specific areas of the foot X-rays, MRI or other testing becomes critical.

Mistakes often occur when the podiatrist either makes a judgment about the patient's condition too quickly, or decides that he knows the problem without having the appropriate tests performed. 

Poor initial intake and examination can cause minor problems, but it can also be very significant.  Where, for example, the patient complaints about a persistent, growing, mass on the ankle or foot, it is critical for the podiatrist to both have testing performed or refer the case to an orthopedist or other specialist.  Things such as lumps, swelling or tenderness could be benign, or they could also be signs of cancer that require immediate further action. 

Insufficient clinical support for surgery.

Surgeons tend to like to perform surgery.  It's what they do.  Now, when the surgery is clinically supported this is fine.  When it's not, however, it is a problem. 

Surgery should, generally speaking, be a last resort.  Particularly when it comes to the foot, surgery can cause many complications that can severely limit an individual's ability to walk and enjoy life.   

Conservative measures should generally be considered before surgery is performed by a podiatrist.  This is even more important with major surgery, like a joint fusion for example.  Conservative measures including strapping, bracing, taping, changing shoes and cortisone injections, to name a few.

These conservative measures should be documented in the records of the podiatrist.  If they are not this could be a problem. 

The need for surgery should also be supported, where applicable, by appropriate films including x-rays.  For example, if the surgeon intends to operate to remove arthritis from a joint and subsequently fuse that joint, the podiatrist should generally have x-rays showing the clear presence of arthritis in the joint.  The absence of these films – particularly where there is limited clinical history supporting such a major surgery – can be an indication that the surgery was not properly supported. 

Improperly performed surgery.

Once the podiatrist elects to perform surgery – and appropriately notifies the patient of the actual surgery being performed and the associated risks and complications – it is critical that the surgery be performed correctly. 

In the field of podiatry, poor surgery can occur in several areas, including removal or “scraping” of bunions and removal or shortening of metatarsal heads, among others.   

Although patients tend to have pain and discomfort following a poorly performed podiatric surgery, it is not uncommon for the treating podiatrist to discount these complications as “ordinary.”  It is therefore critical that if a patient feels that there is a problem post-surgery they contact another podiatrist or orthopedist who can take appropriate films and document what was done.  By far the best indicator of a poorly performed surgery is a comparison of pre-operative and post-operative films.

Lack of informed consent.

Prior to performing surgery on a patient, a podiatrist must obtain that patient's informed consent for the procedure.  This means that the podiatrist must review the exact procedure to be performed with the patient, and must discuss with the patient the risks and potential complications associated with performing the procedure.  If the podiatrist fails to do this the podiatrist has not received informed consent. 

To succeed on a claim for lack of informed consent, a patient must show that had she been given appropriate information she would not have chosen to go ahead with the surgery.  This comes up in podiatry cases where, for example, a podiatrist indicates to a patient that he is going to just go in and “clean up” an area and ends up fusing a joint.  In that situation, absent severe pain, it is unlikely that the patient would have gone ahead with the surgery had she been appropriately advised of the risks and potential complications.

The problem with lack of informed consent claims is that podiatrists will often have patients sign broad consent forms – often at the hospital just prior to surgery – which encompass all sorts of treatments.  Where the podiatrist has not sat with the patient, in office, and had a discussion and obtained a consent form, there could be a problem.

Poor post-operative care.

 Even where a surgery is properly performed post-operative complications can arise.  Therefore, post-operative care is critical.  In many cases, post-operative strapping or taping can go a long way towards preventing long term difficulties. 

Often, unfortunately, the podiatrist has his or her blinders on post-surgery, conducts quick and non-thorough examinations of the patient, and neglects to see a problem until it's far too late.

What to do if you have been the victim podiatric malpractice

Obtain a copy of your records. And be sure the copy is “certified.”  Many podiatrists do not certify their records unless specifically requested.  By getting a certified copy you are obtaining a signed statement from the practice that the records you have received are an exact copy of the original chart.  This can be important later if, when reviewing the original chart, your attorney discovers that something has been altered or removed.  Yes, this happens.

Try to get films, if appropriate, confirming the changes to your foot. As we've noted, one of the best ways to show that a surgery was improperly performed or a condition improperly diagnosed is to compare pre-and post-operative or care films.  If you cannot get the wrongdoer to take new images go to another doctor.  

Obtain appropriate medical treatment to deal with the ramifications of the poor treatment. Podiatry errors can have lifetime consequences.  Often patients find themselves requiring multiple additional surgeries, and in many cases their ability to walk, run, play with their kids or generally enjoy life will have been severely limited.  For this reason, it is critical to obtain any treatment necessary.

Contact a qualified attorney.  Podiatric malpractice lawsuits are subject to strict time limits (2 ½ years) in New York that are shorter than standard negligence or personal injury lawsuits.  This makes contacting a lawyer early on critical.

Podiatric malpractice cases also require that the attorney file a “Certificate of Merit,” attesting that the attorney has had the medical records reviewed by an expert, who has given an opinion that malpractice occurred.  This is another reason why engaging a qualified podiatric malpractice attorney early on is critical.   

Finally, podiatric malpractice lawsuits are complicated.  The medicine is very specialized, and it is important that you contact             a lawyer who has experience with these cases – both in practice and at trial.  We have both.

 If you have questions about a potential podiatry malpractice lawsuit contact us today.  Or for a quick, confidential case evaluation, complete our medical negligence questionnaire here.  

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