Physicians “Missing Opportunity” with Mesothelioma Patients

Even while they are working diligently to diagnose and treat mesothelioma, too many doctors may be missing a vital opportunity to help mesothelioma patients in another important way.

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and researchers at Stanford University found that only a tiny percentage of mesothelioma patients received counseling from their doctor’s office on the cause of their mesothelioma and the possibility of taking legal action. This, despite that fact that almost all cases of mesothelioma, a virulent cancer of the mesothelial tissue around organs, are known to be caused by occupational asbestos exposure.

To conduct the retrospective study, researchers reviewed the charts of 16 patients who had been newly diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma during the study period.  Mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to diagnose and a history of asbestos exposure is typically a key part of making an accurate diagnosis.  In 12 cases (75%), the patients’ job title and documentation of their occupational exposure to asbestos were noted in their medical records.  In two other cases, the patients’ files recorded the assumption that they had been exposed to asbestos as bystanders.

But, even though the medical facility recorded the likely source of most patients’ asbestos exposure, only 1 patient was documented to have received any counseling about what caused their illness and their opportunity to seek compensation from those at fault.

In their summary of the study in the American Journal of Medical Sciences, the researchers concluded that, although documentation of asbestos exposure was common in mesothelioma cases, advice to pursue compensation was rare.  They write, “Physicians may be missing opportunities to provide beneficial information to patient with newly diagnosed malignant pleural mesothelioma regarding potential legal redress and compensation.”

Early education of such patients is especially important because many states have post-diagnosis time limits (12 to 24 months in many cases) on the opportunity to file a mesothelioma lawsuit.  Since the health dangers of asbestos came to light, mesothelioma has spawned billions of dollars in lawsuits against negligent companies where asbestos products were made or used.

Kuschner, WG, “Missed Opportunities to Counsel Patients with Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma about Causation and Potential Compensation”, August 3, 2011, American Journal of Medical Sciences.

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