Tragically, scores of individuals each year in the United States are subjected to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis by physicians. These are the top two medical errors, per a Johns Hopkins University study released in 2016. Sadly, it is estimated by Kaiser Health News that between 10 and 20 percent of patients get misdiagnosed at least once.
Many medical malpractice lawsuits that are filed stem from misdiagnosis or the delayed diagnosis of an illness, injury or other medical condition. The result of a physician’s error in diagnosis can be a worsening of the patient’s actual condition or even death. In addition, the individual may suffer through incorrect treatment or have no treatment at all. Delayed medical treatment due to misdiagnosis can be a death sentence in some cases. Having said all of this, it should be noted that a diagnosis mistake alone isn’t sufficient to merit a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Causes of Medical Misdiagnosis
A doctor’s misdiagnosis is only considered to be malpractice if the physician’s actions were a deviation from the medical standard of care carried out by other doctors who are similarly trained. Below are some common medical misdiagnosis issues:
- Missed Diagnosis – A patient is given a clean bill of health by a physician, yet a disease or illness is present and overlooked.
- Wrong Diagnosis – Misdiagnosis of a medical condition where the physician chooses the wrong illness. For example, the doctor may diagnose a condition as an ulcer when it is actually a heart attack.
- Delayed Diagnosis – Physician does not make the diagnosis in a timely manner. Only after much delay is the correct diagnosis delivered. This type of mistake is a very common diagnosis error.
- Failed to Recognize Complications – Physician makes correct diagnosis, but misses other factors that alter or aggravate the condition.
- Failed to Diagnose a Related Disorder – Physician makes correct diagnosis of one disease, but misses a related disease. The second condition can often go hand-in-hand with the first disease or may have a higher probability of being found in people who have the first disease.
- Failed to Diagnose a Completely Unrelated Disorder – Physician makes correct diagnosis of one disease but entirely misses a second unrelated disease.
Malpractice Proof Based on Diagnosis Error
According to the law, not all diagnosis errors make a physician guilty of malpractice. In order to hold a doctor legally responsible for medical malpractice, three specific points must be proven. They are as follows:
- The existence of a doctor-patient relationship
- Physician failed to provide medical treatment in a competent and reasonably skilled manner
- Physician’s negligence caused injury to the patient
Clearly, the victim’s attorney must show the court that the plaintiff suffered an injury and that it was the physician’s negligence that caused it.
The Doctor’s Negligence?
Just because a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis took place is not sufficient evidence that negligence occurred. Even when reasonable care is used, physicians can still make errors in diagnosing illness. The determining factor is whether the physician acted competently. To determine this, it requires evaluating exactly what the physician did or did not do to arrive at the diagnosis. In analyzing this dynamic, one must examine the “differential diagnosis” method used by the doctor when making treatment determinations.
Let’s look at the differential diagnosis method here. In this process, the doctor does a preliminary evaluation and creates a list of potential diagnoses ranked in order of probability. The doctor then determines the strength of each of the diagnoses by further observing the patient medically, requesting information like medical history and symptoms from the patient, ordering tests, or sending the patient to a specialist.
Through these procedures, it is likely that some of the potential diagnoses will be eliminated. Hopefully, only one diagnosis will end up on the list. However, this is not always the case, given the amount of uncertainty that still exists in medicine. There are occasions when a physician discovers more information through the differential diagnosis method that causes additional diagnoses to be added to the list.
For a successful outcome in a medical malpractice lawsuit based on diagnostic error, an attorney must prove that another physician practicing in a similar field, under similar conditions and circumstances, would have correctly diagnosed the patient’s disease. In essence, it must be proven that one of the two following situations occurred.
- On the differential diagnosis list, the physician failed to include the correct diagnosis, while another competent and reasonably skilled physician would have.
- The physician did include the correct diagnosis on the list, but did not conduct the right tests nor get specialists’ opinions to appropriately investigate the validity of the diagnosis.
Was the Patient Harmed by the Misdiagnosis?
The claim of harm must be established. There is an additional burden of proof on the patient’s attorney to show (1) that the physician’s delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis made the patient’s illness or injury progress further than it would have if a proper diagnosis had been issued in a timely manner, and (2) that the progression of the condition negatively impacted treatment.
If, for example, cancer is not properly diagnosed until several months or a year later, the advanced stage of the disease will likely require more severe, extensive treatment, such as chemotherapy. In some cases, patients die from the cancer metastasizing and not responding to treatment. Even if the disease is still treatable, if the attorney can show that the delayed treatment raises the risk of recurrence, then harm has been inflicted on the patient by the negligent physician.
Additionally, there is another side of the coin. Should a patient be diagnosed with a disease that is not present, then harm from stress, anxiety, unnecessary medical procedures and expenses can potentially be shown.
Speak With a Medical Malpractice Attorney
After reading through the above information, if you find yourself in a similar situation, reach out to us. Our medical malpractice attorneys here at The Eichholz Law Firm can help you tackle the seemingly insurmountable hurdle of getting justification and compensation for the wrong that’s been done to you.
Call (855)-551-1019 or contact one of our team members online. We are here to help.