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Can High-Tech Equipment Eliminate Risk of Pap Smear Malpractice?

In 2014, when a Florida court awarded a widower $15.8 million in wrongful death damages, a bright light was shone on widespread medical malpractice in medical labs that process Pap smear tests. The man’s wife had received a negative Pap smear result, indicating no cancerous cells were present, but she soon thereafter died of cervical cancer. Since then, it has become apparent that misread Pap smear tests are a widespread problem, potentially harming thousands of women who go on to develop deadly cancer.

The inherent difficulty with Pap smears is that samples must be examined by the human eye. The sheer number of Pap tests ordered — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at just under 20 million annually — has labs overwhelmed, so that overworked or inexperienced cytotechnologists or pathologists make otherwise preventable mistakes during processing, leading to inaccurate results. This realization has spawned numerous lawsuits as cervical cancer patients or their survivors pursue justice against negligent labs.

Moreover, this is not a uniquely American problem. The National Health Service of the United Kingdom is currently reviewing thousands of Pap smear tests after determining that 17 women out of 900 tested got false negatives. That’s a failure rate of about two percent.

It is in this context that IU Health, the hospital affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine, announced it has obtained two high-tech machines designed to process and read PAP samples with enhanced speed and accuracy. One of the machines creates the slides from samples, a process that is generally done manually, which can take hours for each sample. According to a report from wishtv.com, the machines allow patients to “receive a Pap test result, know their current HPV status, and find out if they carry a high-risk HPV strain through genotyping.” The automated processes enable doctors  to more closely monitor women with this high-risk strain who were not identified in the past, meaning that doctors can take preventive measures and improve cancer detection rates. Prior to the introduction of the Pap test, more than 60 years ago, cervical cancer was a relatively common cause of death for women. The Pap test was an important innovation in women’s health, but any test needs to be performed, processed and interpreted correctly to be of help. The high-tech machinery at IU Health may provide an answer for overtaxed labs, but unfortunately, the machines only currently exist at IU Health and at Yale University.

Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban represents women who received a misdiagnosis of cervical cancer due to laboratory error. If you were diagnosed with cervical cancer within the past five years, or if your loved one died of cervical cancer, and a medical lab failed to identify the cancer on a Pap smear test, our medical malpractice attorneys may be able to help. Call us at (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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