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Misdiagnosis of scaphoid fracture

A scaphoid fracture is the most common broken bone in the hand and occurs when the small bone in the wrist, at the bottom of the base of the thumb, is broken.  A common mistake when diagnosing a scaphoid fracture is where the doctor fails to ask for specific information from the patient, such as not asking how they fell and whether it was on an outstretched hand. This can often lead to an incorrect diagnosis such as a sprain. Not conducting the correct physical examination is another mistake that is often made. For example, not checking the area at the base of the thumb which is usually very good indicator of a scaphoid fracture. 

When a scaphoid fracture is misdiagnosed or there is a delay in the correct diagnosis it can lead to surgery which may have otherwise been avoided and there is also an increased risk of arthritis. 

If you have suffered a scaphoid fracture and it was misdiagnosed or there was a delay in reaching a correct diagnosis you may be able to make a claim for medical negligence compensation. Speak with a member of our experienced team on 0161 696 6165 .

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What is a scaphoid fracture?

The main symptoms of a scaphoid fracture include tenderness and/or swelling along the side of the thumb. You may also notice the pain increase when you use your grip.

These types of fractures are common in winter due to the poor weather conditions resulting in an  increased number of falls. They are also common amongst sportsmen and women. They can occur to anyone of any age including children, adults and the elderly. 

People often assume they have simply sprained their wrist because there is no physical deformity visible from these types of fractures. A delay in the diagnosis can, however, lead to long term difficulties. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you think you may have suffered a scaphoid fracture. 

How should a scaphoid fracture be diagnosed?

Your medical professional should take a full history from you and establish whether you fell on an outstretched hand and what symptoms you have experienced since. They should also conduct a thorough physical examination. On the back of the hand there is an area that is known to be tender if you have suffered a scaphoid fracture and your doctor should check this carefully. 

If your doctor suspects that you have suffered a scaphoid fracture you should be sent for an x-ray. Often, scaphoid fractures don’t always show up on the first x-ray so if this is the case, you may be asked to return in two weeks for a further x-ray or a scan. You may be placed in a cast in the meantime. It is important that the doctor requests a specific type of x-ray as standard x-rays may not identify the fracture.

If the fracture is non-displaced, whereby the bones have broken but not moved out of line, then the fracture can often be treated in a cast that is worn for 6-12 weeks. If the fracture is displaced, meaning the bones have moved out of alignment, then surgery may be required to fix the bones in position with a small screw.  

Sometimes, scaphoid fractures are visible on x-rays but are missed by the doctor or radiographer. We have also seen instances where the correct follow up has not been offered, such as a repeat x-ray after 14 days where the scaphoid fracture is suspected but not seen on the first x-ray. A failure by an A&E doctor, GP or triage nurse to request a specific type of x-ray which will identify a scaphoid fracture is very common and the patient is incorrectly reassured that they have not suffered a fracture. This usually leads to lengthy delays in the correct diagnosis being made and leads to a worse outcome.

What can happen if the diagnosis of a scaphoid fracture is delayed?

When a diagnosis is delayed, it is much more likely to lead to a delayed union where the fracture takes longer to heal, or a non-union, where the fracture fails to heal at all. In these circumstances, you may be required to wear a cast for a longer period of time but often surgery is required to realign and stabilise the fracture. 

Depending on the severity of the fracture, internal fixation may be required which involves fixing the bones in place with a screw, and occasionally a bone graft may be required. This can cause scarring and pain to another part of your body.

Can I make a claim for the missed or delayed diagnosis of a scaphoid fracture?

If you suspect that your medical professional has failed to diagnose your scaphoid fracture, or has diagnosed it late, then you may be entitled to compensation. 

You are able to claim for the additional pain that you have suffered because of the delay and/or avoidable treatment. If you have required further surgery then you will be able to claim for the pain associated with that and any additional scarring.

You can also claim for any financial losses that you may have incurred as a result of the misdiagnosis such as a loss of earnings if you have been unable to work or care and assistance if you have required help with things around the home.

You may also be able to claim for the cost of any future treatment or equipment that you may need to help improve your functionality. 

Is there a time limit when making a claim for the misdiagnosis of a scaphoid fracture? 

You need to have brought your case to court within three years from the date of the negligence or three years from the date that you became of aware of the negligence.  

We have and specialist team of clinical negligence solicitors who are experienced in dealing with claims involving missed scaphoid fractures. If you think that you may have a claim arising from this area of negligence, please feel free to give our  team a call on 0161 696 6165 and we will be able to offer some initial advice.

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