Diagnostic Errors and How Attorneys Can Prove Negligence
To be eligible for a medical malpractice lawsuit, a doctor does not have to perform a medical procedure on you. A significant amount of cases that are considered medical malpractice are actually due to a bad diagnosis (diagnostic error). A misdiagnosis, in some cases, can be even more damaging than an accident that happens during surgery, as it can result in a very serious condition never being addressed.
How to Prove a Diagnostic Error Occurred
In some cases, a doctor will not be held liable for a diagnostic error to be considered for a malpractice lawsuit, you must prove:
- A doctor-patient relationship formally existed
- The doctor did not provide competent treatment
- The negligence of the doctor caused an injury to the patient
In most cases, a lawsuit will not even be entertained unless you can prove at least one, if not both, of the last two points.
Proving Doctor Negligence
Just because a doctor misdiagnosed a case does not necessarily point to negligence. If this were true, the medical profession would probably be out of business. Even the most skilled doctors with the best equipment make mistakes. So, for you to have a case, you will need to prove the doctor acted improperly in making the diagnosis in the first place. This can be done by examining how the doctor came to the conclusion or diagnosis in your specific case.
When making a diagnosis, the doctor will do a full examination of the patient, making note of all symptoms. He or she should then weigh those symptoms against possible causes, including evaluating the symptoms both collectively and individually (for instance, some symptoms will cause other symptoms to occur). By ordering tests, asking more questions, looking at your medical history, etc., he or she is expected to reach a reasonable diagnosis. However, due to the uncertain nature of the medical field, that diagnosis is not always a certain one.
It is not uncommon for doctors to change a diagnosis as the case goes on due to how the patient reacted to certain medications and/or treatments, making it even more difficult to prove negligence took place in the diagnostic stage of treatment.
For a case to be successful, at least one of the following points MUST be able to be proven true:
- The correct diagnosis was NOT included by the doctor on his or her original differential diagnosis list and any reasonable and competent doctor would have included it.
- The correct diagnosis was included in the original differential diagnosis list but the doctor did NOT perform the proper tests and/or seek opinions from specialists that would have led to further investigation of this diagnosis.
Diagnostic Testing Errors
Something else that could have led to a bad diagnosis is the actual equipment being used. This does not happen often, but it does happen. Additionally, human error can create a diagnostic error. For instance, if samples are contaminated or possibly mixed up, the results would obviously be faulty.
In a case such as this, the doctor may not be found at fault, but the lab, lab technician, or possibly even the manufacturer of the equipment could be sued.
Harm to the Patient
Now, just because the diagnosis was not made properly does not necessarily mean you have a case, either. For a diagnostic error to be considered malpractice, it must be proven that the bad diagnosis directly caused a delay in treatment that resulted in the injury or condition worsening due to the misdiagnosis.
For example, a patient has cancer but the diagnosis was something else that resulted in a long delay in treatment. By the time the correct diagnosis is given, the cancer has progressed to the point that the patient is now considered to be terminal.
A wrong diagnosis can also work the other way. For instance, if someone is diagnosed with cancer and it turns out they do not have cancer, the stress, anxiety, and cost of treatments may lead to a lawsuit over the initial diagnosis.
Emergency Room Problems
If you have ever had to go to an emergency room, you already know how crazy it can get, opening up doctors to rushed, and sometimes, bad diagnosis. One problem that is often misdiagnosed on both sides of the coin is coronary problems and gastric distress (heartburn). Depending upon the age, the doctor may make an early assumption to move ahead with treatment simply based on the person’s age and/or appearance.
For instance, if a 25-year-old athlete comes in with chest pains, the doctor may pursue gastric distress rather than coronary problems based on the health and age of the individual. On the other hand, if a 60-year-old obese man comes in with the same symptoms, the doctors would probably pursue a coronary condition at first for the same reasons.
Do You Need a Diagnostic Errors Attorney?
Have you recently experienced a diagnostic error while seeking medical treatment? If you believe your condition was misdiagnosed and it led directly to more health complications, please give us a call at 855.633.0888. Your initial consultation is free and you are under no obligation to use our legal services for discussing your case with one of our attorneys. For more information about our legal services, you can click here.