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Posted on 24th September 2018

What are the most commonly missed bone fractures

A bone fracture is a relatively common injury. In fact, research suggests that 1% of the population suffers from a fracture every year. It occurs when a strong force is exerted which is more than the bone can structurally withstand. Common bone fractures include wrist fractures, ankles and hip fractures. While many fractures are easily found and treated, misdiagnosed fractures can be frequent and may lead to adverse consequences.

When a fracture occurs, symptoms will usually include;

  • Localised pain
  • Loss of function
  • Swelling
  • Deformity.

When many of these symptoms are present, or it is a compound fracture that breaks through the skin, then a bone break can be easy to diagnose. Typically, this will be through an X-ray, MRI scan or CT scan.  However, in some cases, detecting a fracture can be difficult. Research suggests that there is an estimated daily rate of 3-5% of radiology errors. Furthermore, junior doctors in the UK miss around 39% of fractures on X-rays conducted in A+E departments.

The Problem With Misdiagnosed Fractures

Misdiagnosed fractures can have a range of consequences for the patient. Some patients will suffer from minor inconvenience and pain. However, other patients may suffer from long-term adverse effects such as joint immobility, stiffness and chronic functional limitation. In some cases, there may be the need for later complex and invasive surgery to reduce future problems or for corrective surgery.

In some cases, a misdiagnosis of fractures can lead to long-term health problems, financial loss and psychological trauma. When bone fractures are missed, then the bone may heal or fuse in the wrong position cause extra pain, osteoarthritis and lack of mobility.

Misdiagnosed fractures are now one of the most common diagnostic errors that are made in Accident and Emergency departments. In fact, in a study at North Tyneside General, they found that X-rays that are assessed by A+E doctors are ten times more likely to be misread. This means that patients are ten times more likely to be sent home with the all-clear, despite having a fracture and potentially needing treatment.

If a patient has suffered from a misdiagnosed fracture, it is possible to claim for misdiagnosis compensation.

Missed fracture compensation may be available if;

  • An X-ray was not carried out when it was required
  • Poor image quality means a fracture cannot be spotted
  • The X-ray was misinterpreted
  • There is a lack of understanding of the fracture and its severity
  • There is no specialist referral, or specialist referral was delayed.

Furthermore, after a fracture misdiagnosis has taken place, patients may become very distressed that an error has been made which has adversely affected their health. This can lead to difficulty or a breakdown in the relationship between the patient, doctor and hospital.

What Are The Most Commonly Missed Fractures?

Some fractures are more difficult to spot than others. Research has shown that typically the most common bone fracture misdiagnosis occurs with;

  • Hand phalanges (bones in the fingers and hand) - 26.4%
  • Metatarsus (bones in the hind to midfoot) - 9.5%
  • Distal radius (wrist breakages) - 7.7%
  • Tibia (shin bone) – 7.3%
  • Foot phalanges (bones in the mid-foot and toes) – 5.5%.

Why Are Missed Fractures In Emergency Department Common?

Typically, Accident and Emergency departments are staffed by very junior doctors. Many of whom do not yet have the skills and expertise with specific injuries. Furthermore, accidents in emergency departments are accepted as common as a ‘high-risk’ speciality.

Due to the speed of treatment in Accident and Emergency, many hospitals have a plan in place to have X-rays reviewed by a radiologist afterwards. A radiologist specialises in X-rays and will often be able to pick up fractures missed by the emergency department.

Unfortunately, due to a shortage of radiologists, patients may have to wait a long time until their X-rays are reviewed. At which point, the damage of the fracture may have already been done and could lead to further injuries, pain and mobility problems.

Regarding missed fractures in emergency departments, they are the most common of all the diagnostic errors. One study at a busy general hospital accident and emergency department found that 79.7% of diagnostic errors were missed fractures. Furthermore, misreading X-rays accounted for 77.8% of the mistakes. Failure to perform radiology (such as an X-ray) in the first place attributed to 13.4% of the missed fractures.

What Happens With A Missed Ankle Fracture?

An ankle fracture can involve three different bones. However, because most ankle injuries are straightforward damage to ligaments, such as ankle sprains, many injuries can actually be missed ankle fractures and missed foot fractures.

If an ankle fracture is missed, or misdiagnosed fracture as a sprain, then it may result in long-term disability. Of course, for optimal recovery, it is essential for patients to receive an early diagnosis with prompt and sufficient treatment.

If, however, a hospital missed an ankle fracture, then this may fall under medical misdiagnosis. Depending on the treatment the patient received and the problems the missed ankle fracture caused then patients may be able to claim misdiagnosis compensation and missed fracture compensation.

Can You Sue A Doctor For A Missed Wrist Fracture?

A missed wrist fracture can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort to a patient. It may even lead to future problems of pain as well as limited wrist and hand function and mobility. A missed wrist fracture may also cause a disability.

As doctors and hospital staff have a duty of care to all of their patients, there should be an expectation that they will be able to diagnose a bone fracture correctly. Usually, it is possible for doctors to recognise the problem by understanding the type of accident that occurred as well as the symptoms of the injury.

If a doctor suspects a fracture, then they should commission an X-ray or imagery scan. If you have not received an X-ray or found that you received a fracture misdiagnosis, that has led to increased harm and suffering, then you may be able to sue your doctor for missed fracture compensation.

A missed fracture claim may come under medical misdiagnosis compensation and can be determined by speaking to specialist solicitors for medical negligence. If you have suffered as a result of missed fractures or hospital malpractice, the friendly experts at Negligence Claimline can help with a free discussion of the process of suing for medical negligence and how to proceed with a missed fracture claim.

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