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How to Prove Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis is Medical Malpractice

Posted on behalf of Janet, Jenner & Suggs on May 15, 2017 in Medical Malpractice

doctor reviewing patient dataMany medical malpractice claims involve the misdiagnosis of a patient's illness or injury. Misdiagnosis means the doctor who treated the patient failed to diagnose the patient's illness or gave the patient an incorrect diagnosis.

Proving misdiagnosis in a medical malpractice case is a lot more complicated than establishing that a doctor made mistakes when attempting to diagnose a patient.

There are several things you need to establish to have a chance of recovering compensation in a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis case:

Doctor-Patient Relationship

This is the easiest thing to prove in any medical malpractice case, whether the case involves misdiagnosis or not.

A doctor-patient relationship is established when you agree to be treated by a doctor and he or she provides treatment. This relationship is also established when you go to a doctor and receive treatment without formally agreeing to it.

The other elements of a misdiagnosis case are often much more difficult to establish because there is much more room for interpretation by judges and juries.

Failure to Uphold the Duty of Care

In any medical malpractice case, negligence is defined as the failure of a medical professional to uphold the appropriate standard or duty of care for the situation.

The duty of care is a legal obligation to provide care that meets accepted standards in the medical community. Another way of saying it is that doctors need to provide care that is similar to what would have been provided by another medical professional with similar training in a similar situation.

In a misdiagnosis case, you will need to show that the medical professional in question failed to uphold the standard of care when he or she diagnosed you with an illness.

Differential Diagnosis

Most doctors use what is called differential diagnosis to determine a patient's medical condition. This is a systematic way of identifying a disease, illness or injury.

The process begins when the doctor first evaluates the patient. The doctor makes a list of potential diagnoses in order of probability and tests each diagnosis as he or she continues evaluating the patient. Further evaluation could include:

  • Asking detailed questions about the patient's symptoms
  • Reviewing the patient's medical history
  • Ordering tests, like blood tests, MRIs, CT scans and x-rays
  • Referring the patient to specialists

As the evaluation continues, the doctor begins ruling out some of the potential diagnoses. The doctor may even add more potential diagnoses as he or she learns more.

At some point, the doctor will eliminate every diagnosis except the one that he or she believes the patient has, based on the available evidence.

Proving Negligence During Differential Diagnosis

There are two main ways to prove that a doctor did not uphold the standard of care when diagnosing an illness:

  • The doctor failed to include the patient's correct diagnosis on the list of potential diagnoses, even though a similarly trained doctor in a similar situation would have included it.
  • The doctor did not choose the correct diagnosis because he or she failed to correctly evaluate the patient. This could include failing to perform tests, ask questions of the patient or seek opinions from other doctors.  

Diagnostic Errors

There are cases where a doctor failed to correctly diagnose an illness because of errors during diagnostic tests ordered by the doctor. In these situations, the doctor will not be held liable but the technicians might be.

There are three ways to establish liability for diagnostic errors that caused misdiagnosis:

  • Equipment used for testing was defective or malfunctioning
  • Incorrect reading of test results
  • Contamination of samples

Negligence was the Primary Cause of Harm

The third element of a successful misdiagnosis claim is proving that misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of your illness caused some sort of harm or injury.

There are a variety of ways that misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can be harmful to your health. For instance, if a doctor does not diagnose a disease or injury, you will not receive treatment and the disease or injury could become much worse. If the doctor failed to diagnose cancer, it could progress to a point where it is difficult or impossible to treat and your risk of dying could be much higher.  

If the doctor's diagnosis is incorrect, he or she will attempt to treat you for a disease you do not have. This often happens when a doctor diagnoses a patient with cancer when the patient is cancer-free. The patient may be put through radiation or chemotherapy, which cause harmful side effects. Harm in this situation could also cause psychological issues like anxiety and stress.

An incorrect diagnosis could also lead to surgical procedures that put the patient at risk for infections, excessive bleeding, permanent scarring or disfigurement, or damage to internal organs and tissues.

There are also situations where a doctor provides the correct diagnosis but does not diagnose complications or a related disease that makes the main illness worse.

Medical Conditions Commonly Misdiagnosed

While doctors can fail to correctly diagnose any disease, there are several medical conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed, including:

  • Asthma, which can be misdiagnosed as bronchitis
  • Heart attack, which could be misdiagnosed as indigestion
  • Staph infection, which can be diagnosed as the flu
  • Cancer, including lymphoma, breast cancer and melanoma, which are often diagnosed in patients who do not have these conditions
  • Stroke, which is often misdiagnosed as a migraine in young patients
  • Depression, a condition that could be misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder
  • Celiac disease, which is difficult to diagnose because some people do not display symptoms like abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea
  • Lyme disease, which is often misdiagnosed in people who do not develop a rash, one of the primary symptoms
  • Fibromyalgia, which can be mistaken for arthritis, lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome

Contact Janet, Jenner & Suggs Today for a Free Legal Consultation

The Boston medical malpractice attorneys at Janet, Jenner & Suggs have a detailed understanding of the legal requirements in a misdiagnosis case.

We have the resources to conduct a thorough investigation to discover how a medical professional failed to uphold the duty of care, causing you further injury.

Schedule a free, no obligation legal consultation today to find out if we can help you recover fair compensation for what you have experienced.

Complete a Free Case Evaluation form right now.

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