When you think of medical malpractice, you may think of a doctor who makes a critical error while performing surgery on a patient or a nurse who administers the wrong medication. These are both types of medical malpractice, but the most common type is actually misdiagnosis, which is also known as failure to diagnose.
What is Misdiagnosis?
If you’re not feeling well, you go to a doctor hoping that he will be able to determine what condition you are suffering from after learning about your symptoms. Unfortunately, many doctors misdiagnose patients and tell them that there is either nothing wrong with them or that they are suffering from a condition that they do not have.
Some of the most common reasons why misdiagnosis occurs include:
- Misinterpreting lab results
- Failing to ask the patient about his medical history
- Failing to ask detailed questions about the patient’s symptoms
- Failing to refer the patient to a specialist
- Failing to screen for particular conditions
Misdiagnosis can happen anywhere, but it is far more common in emergency rooms. This is because doctors are required to see a high volume of patients in a short period of time, so they may make mistakes or fail to spend enough time with each patient before making a diagnosis.
Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions
Any condition can be misdiagnosed, but there are some that doctors fail to diagnose at a much higher rate than others. Since a great deal of cases of misdiagnosis occur in emergency rooms, many of the commonly misdiagnosed conditions are incredibly serious. Patients who are taken to emergency rooms with symptoms of a heart attack are often told that they are having indigestion or a panic attack. A patient who is having a stroke may be told that his symptoms indicate he is experiencing a bad migraine headache. Doctors can also make mistakes when diagnosing cancer. A doctor may fail to order the appropriate tests or may misread test results and tell the patient that he does not have cancer, when he actually does.
Other conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed include asthma, which is often mistaken for recurring bronchitis, and inflamed lymph nodes, which many doctors diagnose as appendicitis.
When is Misdiagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?
Every incident of misdiagnosis is not considered medical malpractice. In order for a misdiagnosis to be labeled as medical malpractice, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the doctor was negligent. This means the plaintiff must show that another doctor would have been able to accurately diagnose the victim’s condition under similar circumstances.
How can you prove that a reasonable doctor would have reached a different conclusion? First, it’s important to understand the concept of differential diagnosis. Doctors use a system called differential diagnosis when diagnosing their patients. After evaluating the patient, the doctor is supposed to make a list of conditions that match the patient’s symptoms and rank them based on how likely it is the patient has the condition. Then, it is up to the doctor to eliminate conditions off of this list until he is only left with one, which will end up being what he diagnoses the patient with. To eliminate other conditions on the list, the doctor must order tests, asked detailed questions about symptoms, examine the patient’s medical history, or refer the patient to specialists.
In order to prove the doctor committed medical malpractice, a plaintiff must show one of the following happened:
- The patient’s condition was never included on the doctor’s differential diagnosis list, and a reasonable doctor would have known to include it.
- The patient’s condition was included on the doctor’s differential diagnosis list, but the doctor failed to order appropriate tests or send the patient to a specialist.
- The patient’s condition was included on the doctor’s differential diagnosis list, and the doctor did order the appropriate tests, but he misread the test results.
In addition, the doctor’s error must have led to an injury. For instance, let’s say a patient is told that his tumor is benign, when it is really cancerous. As a result, he does not seek treatment and the cancer spreads to other areas of his body. In this case, the victim suffered harm because he did not seek treatment in a timely manner and now his condition is far worse than it was before. Likewise, a patient who is told that he has cancer when his tumor is actually benign may be injured if he undergoes unnecessary treatment because of the misdiagnosis.
However, if the patient who was misdiagnosed quickly sought a second opinion and received the proper diagnosis right away, he would not have a medical malpractice claim. This is because patients who do not suffer any harm as a result of the misdiagnosis cannot pursue a medical malpractice claim.
Statute of Limitations
If you believe that you have suffered injuries as a result of a misdiagnosis, it’s important to move quickly to take legal action. California law states that plaintiffs must file a lawsuit within one year after they discover or should have discovered the injury or within three years after the date of the injury, whichever comes first. This may seem like a significant amount of time, but it will pass by very quickly if you are attempting to recover from your injuries. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended that you get in touch with an attorney right away to discuss your case.
Have you suffered because of a medical professional’s failure to diagnose your condition? If so, it’s in your best interests to seek legal representation from an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Contact Carpenter & Zuckerman today to schedule a free consultation with our team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers.