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The Impact of Delayed Diagnosis in Spinal Cord Injuries

in Compensation Law by Kate Williams on
The Impact of Delayed Diagnosis in Spinal Cord Injuries

During Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week, Slater and Gordon Medical Negligence lawyer Kate Williams explains the impact of delayed diagnosis in Spinal Cord Injuries.

Approximately 12,000 people in Australia today have a spinal cord injury and it is important to understand the initial signs and diagnosis of the injury to reduce the risk of this happening to you.   Spinal Cord Injuries can occur in a number of ways, with the most common causes in Australia being by motor vehicle accident, general falls, sport related accident or falling into shallow water. 

Immediately following the event that Spinal Cord Injury occurs, there is a need for diagnosis and acute hospital care where all medical treatment can be administered.  However due to the pressures faced by hospital emergency department’s staff and difficulties that General Practitioners may have in diagnosing some acute spinal conditions, delays in diagnosis can result in significantly poor outcomes for patients.

What are the initial signs you should be aware of?

Certain acute and chronic medical conditions that develop in the spinal cord can result in permanent spinal injuries if not diagnosed and treated early. Namely, spinal abscesses, post-operative haematomas following spinal surgery and acute large lumbar disc protrusions.

An infection in the spinal cord can occur and cause a spinal abscess to develop in the spinal cord either at the cervical level or at the lumbar level. Lumbar haematomas are a recognised complication of spinal surgery.

Can these conditions be diagnosed and treated early to avoid permanent damage?

Unfortunately, these spinal conditions are not always detected early before permanent spinal injury results.

Spinal cord damage and Medical Negligence Claims

Non-diagnosis of significant changes in spinal pathology can lead to significant morbidity.  Patients with spinal conditions can deteriorate for various reasons. Past litigation has shown that certain categories of patients will be vulnerable to spinal cord injury, if early diagnosis has not been made of their deteriorating condition, namely:

  1. Significant change or deterioration in disc pathology or disc herniation which impedes upon the spinal cord;
  2. Development of post-operative haematomas post spinal surgery;
  3. Spinal abscesses due to infection.

The first condition, if diagnosed early, can be alleviated via decompression surgery.  The second condition is treated via drainage of the post-operative haematoma. A spinal abscess is treated with antibiotics and surgical drainage. Without early treatment, patients can suffer from significant compression of their spinal cord and injury such as incomplete paraplegia or quadriplegia can occur.

When can you make a claim?

If you have had any of the above named spinal conditions and the diagnosis has not been made within a reasonable time frame you could have a claim.