Misdiagnosis And Delayed Diagnosis

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Medical Malpractice

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Misdiagnosis And Delayed Diagnosis

We turn to medical professionals when we are at our most vulnerable—due to either illness or injury—and need their professional care and medical expertise. An important component of this is the diagnosis that we receive, which guides the care and treatment to follow. If the doctor you had trusted to help you instead misdiagnosed your illness or provided you with a delayed diagnosis, there is a greater potential for more considerable health concerns and a more protracted recovery process.

Proving Medical Malpractice

Both misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis sometimes lead to medical malpractice claims that are based on diagnostic errors. In many cases, in order to file a successful medical malpractice claim, the patient and the medical professional in question must have established a doctor-patient relationship. Also, the medical professional must have been negligent in some capacity, which means that he or she did not render the patient’s medical care in a reasonably skillful and competent manner. Finally, the medical professional’s negligence must have caused the patient to be injured in a manner that is recognized by the law.

Honest Mistakes vs. Medical Malpractice

A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is not necessarily—in and of itself—malpractice. Even well-qualified doctors who take the necessary time and care to skillfully diagnose patients are known to make mistakes. The distinction between an honest mistake and medical malpractice, however, is whether the medical professional acted competently and the way a reasonable medical practitioner in a similar situation would have acted. This determination requires careful evaluation of the differential diagnosis methodology that he or she employed in diagnosing the patient and, thus, in determining the course of treatment.

Differential Diagnosis

The Cleveland Clinic defines differential diagnosis as a list of medical conditions with similar symptoms that healthcare professionals employ to make final diagnoses. This differential diagnosis allows the medical provider to order tests that help to pinpoint the root cause of the patient’s symptoms while ruling out other conditions. The determination of whether a doctor’s diagnosis of a patient’s condition was competent to begin with will hinge on how the differential diagnosis proceeded. Differential diagnosis is a systematic methodology that proceeds according to the following general outline:

  • The doctor performs a preliminary evaluation
  • The doctor creates a list of probable diagnoses (in order of likelihood)
  • The doctor proceeds with testing the veracity of each diagnosis by obtaining more complete medical information about symptoms and medical history, by ordering relevant medical tests, and by seeking the input of specialists
  • Along the way, the doctor rules out those diagnoses that are deemed inapplicable and is left with a final diagnosis

When this process is followed rigorously by capable medical professionals, there is a reasonable expectation that the results will be accurate, and that medical malpractice will not be a concern. If it is not, however, the patient may have a strong medical malpractice claim.

Proving Medical Malpractice

In order to prove a claim of medical malpractice that is based on either misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, there are several primary elements that the patient or the patient’s family will be required to establish, including one or more of the following:

  • Although other reasonably skilled and competent doctors in similar situations would have included the correct diagnosis on their differential diagnosis lists, the patient’s doctor failed to do so
  • While the patient’s doctor included the correct diagnosis on his or her differential diagnosis list, he or she failed to follow through appropriately by running specific tests or by obtaining the input of specific medical specialists in order to explore the diagnosis more carefully
  • The patient’s doctor failed to proceed with a well-considered differential diagnosis in a timely manner

Understanding the Connection Between Medical Misdiagnosis and Medical Malpractice

Medical misdiagnosis refers to a patient receiving an incorrect diagnosis for whatever it is that led him or her to seek medical attention in the first place. Common examples of misdiagnosis include:

  • Diagnosing a heart attack as a case of indigestion
  • Identifying cancer where there is none
  • Misdiagnosing cancer as an infection

Factors That Contribute to Misdiagnosis

Factors that often contribute to misdiagnosis include the following:

  • Failing to obtain an in-depth health history
  • Failing to order tests that correctly align with the patient’s symptoms
  • Misreading test results

If you believe that your doctor’s negligence caused you to be dangerously misdiagnosed, a personal injury attorney can help pursue a claim on your behalf.

Consequences of Medical Misdiagnosis

In best-case scenarios, medical misdiagnosis leads to nothing more harmful than some lost time, additional effort, and increased expense. Added to that is the serious emotional upheaval that a patient can experience if the misdiagnosis is far more serious than the actual medical condition. On the other end of the spectrum, however, a misdiagnosis can cause considerable harm in all the following ways:

  • By preventing the patient from receiving the necessary treatment
  • By foisting unnecessary treatment—related to the misdiagnosis—on the patient
  • By allowing time to elapse, permitting the condition to worsen and to potentially become more difficult to treat effectively
  • By contributing to the overall seriousness of the patient’s condition, especially if the prescribed treatment is counterproductive

Understanding the Connection Between Delayed Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice

As the name implies, delayed diagnosis refers to an accurate diagnosis that takes too long to obtain. The longer it takes a doctor to provide an accurate diagnosis, the longer it takes for the patient to obtain the treatment and care needed and the longer the underlying condition has to advance and to become more difficult to effectively treat. Delayed diagnosis is one of the most common causes of medical malpractice claims, as it can lead to considerable harm.

Next Steps After a Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

If you or someone you love has been harmed by either a medical misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis, you may want to obtain compensation for the damages and to help you through your recovery process. Medical malpractice is a highly complex legal matter and visiting with an experienced attorney can help you understand all of your legal rights to ensure you receive the justice you deserve.

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