Cancer is a devastating diagnosis to all who receive it. However, early diagnosis can aid in treatment and recovery. Limited access to care and a type of cancer that is difficult to detect may lead to its discovery at a later stage, but what a patient does not and should not expect is a misdiagnosis at the hands of medical professionals. A decision issued on September 18, 2014 by the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed a summary judgment in favor of the hospital and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine if doctors had breached standards of care in failing to tell a patient about his potential cancer diagnosis in time to save his life. Diego Zamora, as Personal Representative of the Estate of William “Mack” Vaughan v. St. Vincent Hospital, —P.3d—2014, 2014 WL 4638900 (Case No. 33,770).
In August of 2002, Mr. Vaughan had arrived at the emergency room of St. Vincent Hospital with abdominal pain. He was seen by the ER doctor and a general surgeon, who called in a contract radiologist to perform an abdominal scan on the patient. The radiologist concluded that the patient probably had a diverticular abscess, but as a secondary diagnosis, the patient might have cancer. It is unknown whether the radiologist told the other physicians about the possibility of cancer. The general surgeon relayed the information about the diverticular abscess to the patient and recommended he stay for observation, but the patient declined and was discharged from the emergency room.