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Seen At 11: Botched Medical Records Could Cause Physical And Financial Harm

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Your medical records are key not only to your physical health, but your financial health as well.

Indeed, an error could lead to a misdiagnosis or an insurer denying you coverage. As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, a medical mistake lurking in your files could scar you for life.

It happened to Frank Tetto.

"I don't have an alcohol problem," he said.

But the 67-year-old Tetto's medical records claimed a different story.

"It said, 'alcohol abuse,'" he explained.

It's a label that Tetto believes was given to him by an emergency room doctor at St. Clare's Hospital in Dover, New Jersey on a visit for suspected jaundice in 2013.

"One of the questions, and I thought it was part of the normal process: 'How much do you drink? How often do you drink?'" Tetto said.

Tetto said despite answering that he only had one or two glasses of wine occasionally, his medical records reflected that he had a drinking problem.

It was an assessment that Tetto later proved to be false.

"In a surprising number of cases the wrong information is conveyed on medical charts," attorney Anthony Macri said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "medical errors" are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.

"Subsequent doctors rely on the information in the chart and if it's misinformation their treatment can become life threatening," said Macri, who has handled a number of cases involving such mistakes, "I've seen it time and time again."

Tetto whose jaundice was actually the result of pancreatic cancer said the hospital refused to change his records at first.

Tetto said he has never turned to the bottle, even after his daughter Maria suffered a serious brain injury after begin struck by a car.

He was ready for a fight, but it took two different attorneys and several letters from his regular doctors exonerating him of his so-called "habit" and the hospital finally agreed to change his record.

"With pancreatic cancer I may reach a point where I need a liver transplant, and I do know enough about the process where people that abuse alcohol go further down the list to get an organ transplant," Tetto said.

To avoid similar problems Macri suggested making sure doctors take time to hear your whole story, and ask for a copy of your records.

"Making sure they are an accurate reflection of what took place," Macri said.

In a statement St. Clare's Hospital told us they are happy to amend a patient's chart if the caregivers involved in the patient's treatment feel it is reasonable to do so under all of the circumstances.

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