New Jersey – Gastroenterology – Pathology Diagnoses Polyp Removed During Colonoscopy As Adenocarcinoma

A payment of $775,000 had been made on the gastroenterologist’s behalf to settle a civil malpractice action brought against him by a patient.

It was alleged the gastroenterologist failed to follow-up on pathology results that revealed cancer after he had performed a colonoscopy on the patient, which led to a delay in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

On 8/12/2009, a 55-year-old woman presented to a gastroenterologist with complaints of abdominal pain and rectal bleeding.  The patient’s medical history revealed a family history of colon cancer.  The gastroenterologist recommended that the patient have a diagnostic colonoscopy to evaluate her persistent rectal symptoms.

On 9/17/2009, the gastroenterologist performed a colonoscopy on the patient.  During the procedure, the gastroenterologist identified internal hemorrhoids associated with a sessile polyp in the mid-rectum.  The gastroenterologist removed the polyp and submitted the specimen for pathologic analysis.  The patient was discharged from the hospital on 9/17/2009.

On 9/18/2009, pathology diagnosed the polyp to be a moderately differentiated adenocarcinoma arising within a tubular adenoma.  On 10/6/2009, the gastroenterologist entered a progress note in the patient’s hospital chart directly documenting the finding of adenocarcinoma made in the pathology report.  Despite entering that chart note, the gastroenterologist never advised the patient of the finding of adenocarcinoma that had been made.

The gastroenterologist thereafter had no further contact with the patient until he saw her in his office on 8/23/2010, approximately eleven months after the colonoscopy had been performed.  At that visit, the gastroenterologist diagnosed the patient with hemorrhoids and prescribed steroid suppositories; however, he once again failed to inform her of the finding of cancer that had been made following the September 2009 colonoscopy.  Additionally, the gastroenterologist did not then recommend that the patient schedule a repeat colonoscopy.

The patient ultimately had a repeat colonoscopy performed by another physician on 4/27/2011.  Following that procedure, she was found to have an invasive carcinoma of the mid-rectum, and she commenced receiving treatment for colon cancer.

When appearing before the panel, the gastroenterologist testified that he was aware of the pathology findings that had been made following the colonoscopy but did not specifically advise the patient of those findings because he considered the pathology findings to be “benign.”  The gastroenterologist further testified that he was confident that he had removed the entirety of the rectal polyp at the time of the colonoscopy.  The gastroenterologist maintains that, after completing the colonoscopy, he advised the patient that she would need to see him again in “about” a year, but there is no documentation in either the gastroenterologist’s medical record or the hospital chart which memorializes respondent’s having advised the patient to have a repeat colonoscopy within one year.  Further, although the gastroenterologist entered a note in the patient’s hospital chart on 10/6/2009 documenting the pathology findings, he failed to record the pathology findings in his office medical record, and he failed to obtain and/or maintain a copy of the pathology report in his office record.

The Board judged the gastroenterologist’s conduct to have fallen below the standard of care given failure to document that he advised the patient to have a repeat colonoscopy performed within one year of the date on which the original colonoscopy was performed and failure to have documented the pathology findings of adenocarcinoma in his office record.

The Board assessed a fine against the gastroenterologist with stipulations to complete courses in medical record keeping and medical ethics.

State: New Jersey

Date: March 3017

Specialty: Gastroenterology

Symptom: Blood in Stool, Abdominal Pain

Diagnosis: Colon Cancer

Medical Error: Failure to follow up, Failure of communication with patient or patient relations, Lack of proper documentation

Significant Outcome: N/A

Case Rating: 3

Link to Original Case File: Download PDF

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