Misdiagnosis and missed diagnoses are two things that are more common than you might realize in health care. In some cases, a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis can be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. So how do you know if your situation falls into that category?
The following are some things to know about a misdiagnosis or a missed diagnosis, and also when these situations constitute malpractice.
What is Misdiagnosis?
Misdiagnosis is when your doctor tells you that you have a certain condition, but that’s not what you have in actuality.
For example, maybe your doctor tells you that you have an infection when, in reality, you have cancer.
A missed diagnosis, on the other hand, is a lack of a diagnosis altogether. A missed diagnosis can mean that you get no treatment when you need it, or your treatment isn’t accurate in relation to your condition.
One common example of a missed diagnosis in health care is when women have stomach-related symptoms, and they’re sent to a gastroenterologist, but in reality, they have ovarian cancer. In some cases, a missed diagnosis or even an incorrect diagnosis makes no difference in the long run because the condition will heal on its own.
In other cases, if someone gets the wrong treatment or no treatment, it can lead to serious health complications or even death.
There are estimates that missed diagnoses account for around 5% of all outpatient cases. At the same time, neither missed diagnoses nor misdiagnoses are accurately reported many times because there’s no standardized method of reporting.
If you feel like your symptoms aren’t being treated properly, or you feel your diagnosis is incorrect, seek out a second opinion.
Doctors may mention the phrase differential diagnosis in these cases.
Common situations where there is misdiagnosis include:
- Asthma, which is often diagnosed as bronchitis
- Cancer, which can be diagnosed when someone doesn’t have it, or it can be missed or diagnosed as something else when a patient does have it
- Heart attacks, which can be diagnosed as panic attacks or indigestion in many cases
- Lymph node inflammation, which can be diagnosed as something like appendicitis
- Staph infection, which may be diagnosed as a flu
When is Misdiagnosis Malpractice?
Not all instances of misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis count as medical malpractice. A misdiagnosis on its own is not malpractice and an error in diagnosing you doesn’t mean you have a possibly successful lawsuit.
Instead, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose has to lead to worsening of your condition.
You would have to prove first that there was a doctor-patient relationship if you were going to make a case for personal injury stemming from misdiagnosis. You would also have to show that your doctor didn’t live up to the standard of care in the diagnostics of your condition.
Then, you would have to show that the failure to diagnose caused injury.
Determining whether a health care provider met the standard of care usually requires input from a professional.
Your case would hinge on whether or not another doctor in the same situation, and specialty would have misdiagnosed you or missed a diagnosis.
Sometimes, misdiagnosis can be the result of errors in testing. Testing can include blood testing and scans. Then, the technician or doctor who interprets the results can be held liable in the event of a wrong diagnosis.
Along with showing a doctor didn’t make the correct diagnosis, a successful case has to show harm, as was touched on.
Some examples of harm that can stem from misdiagnosis include:
- The patient had to undergo more aggressive treatment than they would have had to do if their diagnosis had occurred early.
- The patient had to undergo dangerous treatments like chemotherapy unnecessarily.
- Surgeries were performed when they weren’t needed.
- The patient is at an increased risk of complications or death.
Statute of Limitations
In a medical malpractice suit, along with showing that a doctor didn’t adhere to the standard of care and that they caused injury or harm, there is also a time limit to think about. In any medical malpractice case, there’s a statute of limitations.
A statute of limitations is the time you have available to get the process of a lawsuit started.
You’ll have to file your complaint, which is your initial document, within a certain period of time after the harm.
Deadlines vary by state.
Reasons to Get a Second Opinion
Whether a missed diagnosis is grounds for a lawsuit or not, your health or the health of your loved one is the top priority.
Doctors make mistakes every day, and that means getting a second opinion can be very important.
When you get a second opinion, it can provide you with peace of mind before you proceed with treatment or surgery.
Many times a second opinion will match what your original health care provider told you. If not, you can listen to a doctor providing a second opinion to determine which treatment might be right for you.
You don’t need a reason to get a second opinion, but there are scenarios where they make sense.
For example, if you’re diagnosed with a rare disease, a second opinion may be a good idea. Tens of millions of Americans are diagnosed with rare diseases each year, and they’re challenging to diagnose because doctors don’t have a lot of experience with them.
Also, think about a second opinion if a doctor is recommending a risky treatment or one that involves surgery or long-term complications. You want to make sure you explore every possible avenue or treatment option first.
Overall the key takeaways are first and foremost, if in doubt, always get a second opinion. If you think you have been harmed by a missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, you might want to consult with a personal injury attorney, because in some instances, this can be grounds to file a lawsuit. This is particularly true if you were harmed or your loved one was harmed because of the misdiagnosis.