A recent study by European doctors may heighten the level of care that physicians must provide patients who are comatose due to a brain injury. According to an article by the London National Health Service, a four year hospital trial found that a brain scan could identify which patients were likely to wake up from their coma. Positron emission tomography, also called PET, is a specific type of brain scanning technology. With it, doctors were able to identify “hidden levels of consciousness” within the brains of a third of the patients studied.
The trial reportedly involved 126 patients. Of those patients, 41 of them were previously classified in a persistent vegetative state. Doctors, using the PET scan, determined that 13 patients demonstrated some consciousness, leading to the conclusion that they were misdiagnosed by their previous physicians. Out of the 13, nine came out of a coma within one year of the study. Three died from unrelated complications and one remained comatose. This reflects an accuracy rate of 74% compared to a 56% accuracy rate for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is most commonly utilized.
PET scans are commonly used for cancer patients, but not in the area of brain injuries. They are completed with injections of radioactive tracer, which create 3D images of activity within the cells. Alternatively, MRI scans demonstrate the level of blood flow within the brain. This blood flow alerts doctors to brain activity. According to the article, PET technology is expensive and challenging to use, but scientists hope that these types of findings will assist in making them more financially accessible and easier to use.
Why Does This Matter to Patients
The article discusses the potential problems with misdiagnosis of these vulnerable brain injury patients. There are ethical concerns to consider, regarding pain management and the continuation of life preserving measures by treating physicians. The study differentiated between patients in a persistent vegetative state and patients in a coma. Comatose patients demonstrate a sleep/wake cycle, but no signs of awareness. While people in a persistent vegetative state show varying levels of awareness and some stimuli reactions. According to researchers, comatose patients likely feel pain and would benefit from pain medications. Additionally, their likelihood of recovery is higher than patients in a persistent vegetative state.
Professor Steven Laureys led the study. He concluded that doctors are not properly conducting bedside diagnostic tests. He went on to state, “Unfortunately these patients are kind of neglected by medicine and society as a whole. He (the patient) often has not seen a medical doctor or specialist for years.” Comatose patients have a right to adequate treatment, just like any other patient. Their inability to speak for themselves can make them susceptible to inadequate care. If they are being denied proper provisions, due to misdiagnosis, there may be legal liability for the physicians.
If your loved one is comatose and you believe that they are not receiving proper care, contact an experienced brain injury lawyer. The attorneys of Levin & Perconti have the knowledge and skill, to aggressively advocate for your loved one.
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