Failure to diagnose and delayed diagnosis rank among the most serious forms of medical malpractice. They may also be among the most common. The healthcare journal BMJ Quality and Safety reported in 2014 that 12 million people in the US—or about one in 20 Americans—experience diagnostic errors each year. The study estimated that 50% of these diagnostic errors “could potentially be harmful.” The Society to Improv Diagnosis in Medicine, meanwhile, estimates that between 40 thousand and 80 thousand people die each year from medical complications resulting from diagnostic errors, according to Healthline.
Many people will receive diagnostic errors in their lifetime, but only some diagnostic errors will have serious ramifications for the patient. Victims of misdiagnosis may suffer erroneous medical procedures (or not receive the procedures they need) and medical complications ensuing from the failure to diagnose. A patient whose condition is not properly diagnosed—or whose diagnosis is delayed—can suffer life-changing effects and even death.
What Is Failure to Diagnose?
Medical diagnosis is incredibly complex, and not all failures to diagnose (or delayed diagnoses) are malpractice. There are many thousands of diseases and diagnostic tests, but comparatively few symptoms; even the most skilled medical professionals miss things. Generally speaking, doctors arrive at diagnoses through a process called differential diagnosis. This is a form of analysis in which a doctor assembles a list of possible conditions a patient could be suffering from, based on the patient’s medical history and symptoms; the results of physical examinations; and the results of lab tests. The process of narrowing down the list helps the doctor arrive at the patient’s true condition.
Naturally, this process is not always so smooth. Many medical conditions share common symptoms. An accurate diagnosis can depend on numerous tests and consultation with specialists, which can take a great deal of time. Even then, the patient is relying on the judgment of the medical professionals interpreting their symptoms, medical history, and test results. In ideal circumstances, that judgment is well grounded. But sometimes it’s not. Common forms of misdiagnoses include the total failure to diagnose a condition; the delayed diagnosis of a condition; misdiagnosis, or the diagnosis (and unnecessary treatment of) a condition the patient doesn’t have; the failure to identify complications stemming from a correct diagnosis; and the correct diagnosis of the patient’s condition, but failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis of a related or related conditions.
How Does Failure to Diagnose Occur?
Negligent failure to diagnose can occur when a doctor fails to list the patient’s condition as a possibility during the differential diagnosis process—provided that in other circumstances, a reasonably competent doctor would have listed the condition. It can also occur when the doctor does consider the diagnosis in their list of possibilities, but does not test for the condition and/or does not consult specialists. Other possible causes include lab mistakes or a doctor’s failure to listen to a patient’s description of their symptoms or medical history.
What Can I Do If I’m a Victim of Failure to Diagnose?
Generally speaking, victims of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis must demonstrate that they were in a doctor-patient relationship; that the doctor was negligent; and that this negligence resulted in harm to the patient. Demonstrating these elements requires a skilled representation and often the consultation of specialists or other expert witnesses, which is why victims of failure to diagnose should be sure to seek out competent, experienced legal counsel.
The New York-based medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan have decades of experience holding medical professionals accountable for their failures to diagnose, delayed diagnoses, and misdiagnoses. Please contact our medical malpractice lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.