What is the Difference Between a Missed Diagnosis and a Misdiagnosis?

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One of the most common types of medical malpractice cases involve diagnosis errors. When a doctor fails to properly diagnose a medical condition in a timely fashion, the patient’s condition can worsen, and in extreme cases, the patient may die. Although missed diagnosis and misdiagnosis cases are similar in that they cause the patient to suffer unnecessary pain and suffering, there are key differences for which patients should be aware, particularly if they plan to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer can thoroughly explain the differences between the two, assist the patient with the claims process, and ensure that they receive the financial compensation they deserve.

What is a Missed Diagnosis?

Also referred to as a failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis, a missed diagnosis occurs when a health care provider fails to identify an illness or a medical condition after the patient describes the symptoms he or she has been experiencing. The patient is often given a clean bill of health, and no treatment is administered. For example, if a patient sees a doctor because he has been experiencing chest pain, the doctor has a responsibility to rule out any serious health issues. If the doctor diagnoses the condition as indigestion when it is actually the early signs of a heart attack, this missed diagnosis and lack of proper treatment can cause the patient’s condition to become much worse and much more difficult to treat. In this case, the missed diagnosis can lead to a fatal heart attack.

In addition to having a significant impact on patients’ physical health, a missed diagnosis can cause patients to feel hopeless, frustrated, and depressed. This is particularly true if the missed diagnosis allowed the condition to progress to a point at which it is difficult, if not impossible, to treat. This can have a profound impact on the patient’s quality of life.

What is a Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis occurs when a health care provider diagnoses a patient’s illness or health issue, but the diagnosis is incorrect. As a result, the patient does not receive the treatment necessary for the actual illness or health condition that exists. In addition, if the doctor proceeds with the treatment protocol for the incorrect diagnosis, this can cause additional health complications, particularly if the unnecessary treatment involves serious side effects or adverse reactions to prescription medications. In addition, if the health condition progresses as a result of the misdiagnosis, it can be much more difficult to treat once the correct diagnosis has been identified, and the outcomes are often less favorable.

How Do I Prove a Diagnostic Error?

If a patient’s health has been compromised as a result of a diagnostic error, such as a missed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, they may wish to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against the health care professional responsible for their care. However, it is important to understand that a missed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis alone does not necessarily warrant a malpractice lawsuit. There are a number of factors that the patient must be able to prove in order to have a successful malpractice case, including the following:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed.
  • The doctor was negligent.
  • The doctor’s negligence caused the patient’s injuries.
  • The patient’s injuries resulted in damages.

In medical malpractice cases, negligence is generally determined by whether the doctor breached the standard of care when evaluating the patient and identifying a diagnosis. The standard of care is the level of care that a reasonably skilled health care professional would provide under similar circumstances. The patient must be able to prove that the doctor did not provide the treatment with the same degree of skill and competency that another doctor in the same field would have provided is the same situation.

To prove that a health care provider is negligent regarding a diagnosis error, the patient must be able to show the following:

  • The health care provider failed to perform the differential diagnosis properly, resulting in a misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis.
  • The health care provider failed to include all the possibilities in the differential diagnosis list that another reasonably qualified doctor would have considered under similar circumstances.
  • The health care provider did not perform the necessary tests that would rule out certain possibilities and help make an accurate diagnosis.

How Do I Prove that the Diagnostic Error Caused My Injury?

If a negligent misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis caused a patient’s injury or caused the patient’s condition to progress, he or she must be able to prove that the health complication would not have occurred if the correct diagnosis was made in a timely manner. In addition, the patient must prove that the resulting progression of the disease or illness had a negative impact on his or her treatment. The patient must obtain copies of all medical records, test results, treatment protocols such as chemotherapy or radiation; and documentation of the additional medical complications, financial expenses, and stress or anxiety associated with the diagnostic error.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Patients?

There is a protocol that doctors follow when diagnosing a patient, which is known as the differential diagnosis method. This involves taking the patient’s full health history, including any current complaints or symptoms that he or she is currently experiencing. Based on the information provided, the doctor will likely perform a complete physical examination. The doctor will then identify a list of possible cases, ranked in order of which diagnosis makes the most sense based on the examination, the symptoms, and the health history. The doctor may then order a series of tests or perform additional evaluations to help further narrow down the list of possible diagnoses, including the following:

  • Ask the patient more detailed questions about his or her symptoms.
  • Perform additional laboratory tests or radiological testing.
  • Further investigate the patient’s medical history.
  • Provide referrals to specialists.

What are Examples of Diagnostic Testing Errors?

There are a wide range of tests that a health care provider may order to accurately diagnose a patient’s health condition or illness. In some cases, a doctor may misdiagnose a condition because the laboratory tests, radiology films, or other test results were inaccurate. The following are examples of how this can happen:

  • This diagnostic equipment was broken, faulty, or malfunctioning.
  • Human error resulted in samples getting contaminated or mixed up. The technician may have used the wrong procedure, test results may have been read incorrectly, or a specialist failed to notice something on an X-ray.

Although the treating doctor may not be liable for medical malpractice if the mistake was made by a laboratory technician or other specialist, the patient must still be able to prove that the misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis was the result of negligence. He or she must also be able to prove that the suffering caused by the diagnostic error could have been avoided if the correct diagnosis was made in a timely manner. In many medical malpractice cases, an expert witness will need to be consulted to review the details of the case, evaluate how the health care provider determined the diagnosis, and whether standard of care was breached.

What are Common Types of Diagnostic Errors?

Even the most respected and experienced doctors are human and capable of making a mistake. Unfortunately, when the mistake involves a diagnostic error, it can seriously jeopardize the health of the patient. In addition to misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis errors, the following are examples of diagnostic mistakes that doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can make:

  • Delayed diagnosis: The health care professional makes the correct diagnosis, but only after a significant delay. Depending on how long it took for the doctor to correctly diagnose the issue, the illness or health condition can become much more serious and difficult to treat.
  • Failure to recognize complications: The health care provider makes the correct diagnosis but does not identify potentially serious complications that could cause the illness to progress.
  • Failure to diagnose a related disease: The health care provider correctly diagnoses the health condition for which the patient is experiencing symptoms but fails to diagnose another related health condition. If the doctor should have been aware that the related disease is a common occurrence in patients who have the primary disease but failed to diagnose it, he or she may be considered negligent.
  • Failure to diagnose an unrelated disease: In addition to the health condition for which the patient is seeing the doctor, the patient may also have a completely unrelated disease. If the doctor diagnoses the primary disease but fails to diagnose the unrelated disease, he or she may be considered negligent.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of Diagnosis Errors

If you or a loved one was seriously injured, or your health was compromised because of a diagnosis error made by your health care professional, you are urged to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will determine whether the misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis was the result of negligence and assist you with every step of the claims process. Our dedicated legal team will secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.