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Software evidence plays key role in medical malpractice case

Medical malpractice law allows injured patients or their families to hold medical care providers liable for the damages they cause when their care falls short of professional standards. But to do so, the plaintiff must show what the standard of care is, and how the care provider should have acted differently. Doing this requires some a very close look at the evidence.

In a recent medical malpractice lawsuit from another state, the result hinged on a somewhat unusual piece of evidence: the computer software used at the clinic in question.

According to news reports, the case involved a 24-year-old man who died after his testicular cancer went undiagnosed and untreated. The young man visited the doctor to ask to be examined for what he thought was an unusual mass on one of his testicles. A doctor failed to thoroughly examine the patient, but referred him to another doctor. This doctor examined the patient but said he found nothing unusual and recommended the man examine himself to watch for any changes. Three months later, the patient was hospitalized with severe abdominal pain and was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had metastasized. He died weeks later.

The type of cancer the patient had is considered highly treatable. It has a 95% survival rate if caught in time. The man's family filed a medical malpractice suit against the medical center involved, arguing that by not examining the patient earlier, the center's care fell short of medical standards. To prove this, the family ordered a forensic examination of the medical center's computer system. This showed that when a patient complains of an issue like the one that brought the young man into the clinic on his first visit, the facility should have ordered an ultrasound.

Most medical malpractice lawsuits don't involve testimony from software engineers, but they do require expert witnesses who can interpret highly complicated evidence for the court.

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