We go to the doctor to feel better, not worse. But sometimes doctors make diagnostic mistakes that misidentify our condition and do us more harm than good. If that happened to you or your loved one, the law may entitle you to pursue legal action for money damages.
Misdiagnosis can hurt you in many ways. Your true health problem can worsen and make you sicker. Treatments you receive for a misdiagnosed condition can inflict pain, suffering, and unnecessary expense. In the worst cases, you might lose a limb, a bodily function, or years of your life.
Let’s take a closer look at misdiagnosis what it is, where, when, and why it happens, and how an experienced medical malpractice attorney can secure compensation for the harm it did to you or someone you love.
Misdiagnosis Compensation Guide
- What is medical misdiagnosis?
- Factors Contributing to Wrongful Medical Misdiagnosis
- How to Know if a Doctor Misdiagnosed You?
- What to Do if You Expect a Misdiagnosis?
- Potential Compensation for a Misdiagnosis
- Contact a Skilled Medical Misdiagnosis Lawyer Today
What is medical misdiagnosis?
We bring health complaints to a doctor to find out what’s wrong. The doctor’s diagnosis gives us an answer, sets the course of our treatment, and, hopefully, leads to us getting better. Medical misdiagnosis is what happens when a doctor gets that answer wrong.
Diagnosis Isn’t Always Easy
Doctors will tell you that diagnosis is as much art as science, and in some ways that’s true. Healthcare workers gather evidence by interviewing and examining a patient, reviewing medical records, conducting tests, and so on. Then, they apply years of training and experience to analyze that information to come up with an explanation for the patient’s symptoms and complaints.
Sometimes that explanation of the diagnosis is clear and virtually indisputable. But sometimes it’s more of a judgment call or a choice between two or more possible theories. Deciding on a diagnosis in those cases can depend on reading subtle, almost imperceptible clues: a slight shift in test data, the rhythm of a heartbeat, the sheen of a patient’s skin, or even a rattle in their voice.
Which Is Why Not All Misdiagnosis Amounts to Medical Malpractice?
Getting the answer wrong in easy and not-so-easy cases alike constitutes misdiagnosis. But because we recognize that diagnosis isn’t always simple or straightforward, we only hold medical professionals legally and financially accountable for unreasonable misdiagnoses that fall below a medically accepted standard of care.
The standard of care is the benchmark for distinguishing incorrect but reasonable judgment calls from unreasonable diagnostic mistakes. All doctors have a duty to provide a minimum standard of care to a patient. But the required standard of care in coming up with a diagnosis can vary widely based on the doctor, the patient, and the care setting.
Take, for example, a patient who goes to the doctor complaining of abdominal discomfort and a loss of appetite. The true cause of those symptoms is a rare tapeworm the patient contracted while on an expedition to the Amazon jungle. But a doctor misdiagnoses the patient with a common stomach virus, and the patient’s condition worsens for a lack of proper treatment.
Is misdiagnosis malpractice? It depends. We probably wouldn’t think of it as malpractice if the patient got it from a doctor at a walk-in urgent care clinic that did not have his medical records on file, and to whom the patient said nothing about drinking potentially contaminated water while in the Amazon.
But the same diagnosis could constitute malpractice if the patient gets it from a specialist in tropical parasites with whom the patient had consulted before leaving for the Amazon, and who inexplicably failed to recognize symptoms commonly associated with a tapeworm infection when the patient returned from the trip.
A more common example is a heart attack, which can mirror an ulcer’s symptoms. A doctor who sends a patient home with Pepcid without bothering to run basic cardiology tests may have committed malpractice if a heart attack causes serious damage.
Factors Contributing to Wrongful Medical Misdiagnosis
For the remainder of this article, we’ll focus only on misdiagnosis that falls below the medical standard of care and therefore constitutes medical malpractice. That sort of misdiagnosis generally happens because of a breakdown in practices, procedures, and tools medical professionals rely upon to get the correct diagnostic answer for a patient.
Below we review some common factors that contribute to medically negligent misdiagnosis of a patient’s condition.
Information and Communication Failures
To reach a correct diagnosis, a medical professional needs to have reasonably complete, accurate, and relevant information about a patient. This commonly includes the patient’s health history, facts about the patient’s current condition based on a physical examination and asking the patient questions, and the results of appropriate diagnostic tests.
Errors, inattention, and lapses in judgment at any stage of collecting, processing, or communicating this data can lead to a misdiagnosis by misinforming a healthcare worker about facts that should figure into the diagnostic analysis.
These shortfalls can include:
- Failure to ask or obtain answers to relevant diagnostic questions;
- Failure to perform a complete exam or diagnostic test;
- Failure to communicate effectively due to a patient’s age, education level, disability, or language fluency;
- Failures in recording, writing, printing, or reading the information in medical files;
- Failures in sharing electronic medical records between providers.
Experience has shown that even small flaws in the information available to a doctor making a diagnosis can lead to highly consequential misdiagnoses.
Another common factor underlying actionable misdiagnosis involves failures in connection with performing or interpreting diagnostic tests. Often, these failures go hand in hand with the communication errors listed above.
They might include:
- Performing the wrong test on a patient;
- Performing a test incorrectly;
- Loss, mix-up, or contamination of samples being tested;
- Placing too much or too little emphasis on test results;
- Misreading test results;
- Misinterpreting test results in light of other available information;
- Failures to recognize and correct false positives or false negatives.
Testing can be a double-edged sword in performing a diagnosis. It can provide useful, even vital, data about a patient. But medical providers can also trust in testing too much, mistaking the certainty of a test result as confirmation of its accuracy. When this happens, misdiagnosis frequently follows.
Stress, Fatigue, Health Problems, and Other Human Failures
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are human beings. They have bad days like anyone else. Long hours, job demands, workplace politics, health problems, fatigue, substance abuse, family drama, and countless other stressors often interfere with the ability to deliver an accurate diagnosis for a client.
But while we can understand and empathize with a provider’s personal shortcomings, that doesn’t mean we always have to excuse them. We count on doctors to diagnose conditions accurately, and to know when life’s stresses and strains prevent them from doing so. We might feel bad for a doctor whose fading eyesight affects her ability to read a chart, but that does not mean it’s reasonable for her to put her patients’ health at risk by continuing to practice in that condition.
How to Know if a Doctor Misdiagnosed You?
It’s not always easy to know if a doctor has misdiagnosed your health condition.
These signs might signal a misdiagnosis.
- You’ve followed the treatment plan and aren’t getting any better;
- You experience symptoms that do not fit with your understanding of the diagnosis;
- You do not experience symptoms that almost always go with your diagnosis;
- Your doctor changes your diagnosis or starts referring to your condition differently;
- Your doctor changes your medication or recommended treatment plan;
- People you trust openly doubt your diagnosis.
These signs aren’t definitive, nor is this a complete list of indicators of a potential misdiagnosis. But they can serve as warnings that your doctor has sent you down the wrong path, and that you need to take steps to correct the situation.
What to Do if You Expect a Misdiagnosis?
If you come to believe that a doctor has misdiagnosed your condition, it’s generally up to you to do something about it. Every case and condition differs, but the steps below may help to protect your health, rights, and future.
Talk to Your Doctor
The first step to take if you suspect misdiagnosis is to talk with your doctor about your concerns and seek to ensure that you’re getting proper care and treatment. Your health should take priority, and your doctor should listen to what you have to say and consider the possibility of changing course.
Do not worry that this will seem like an accusation. Remember, medical diagnosis isn’t always straightforward, even for experienced medical professionals. Doctors need up-to-date information from their patients to adjust their own views of a diagnosis. Never trust that your doctor will automatically know when to reevaluate a diagnosis if you suspect something isn’t quite right, say so and see how your doctor responds.
Get a Second Opinion
You might also want to seek the counsel of a second doctor to evaluate your condition. You have every right to seek a second opinion and oftentimes health insurance will cover it. Your current doctor may even encourage you to seek one and recommend providers for you to consult. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can also help you locate a doctor for a second opinion.
Consider Changing Medical Providers
Depending on how your current doctor responds to your concerns about a potential misdiagnosis, and what you learn in a second opinion, you may want to consider changing medical providers. This can be a big step in some cases, particularly if you have had a long relationship with your current physician. It might also present some issues when it comes to insurance reimbursement.
However, it is generally your right to choose who provides you with medical care, and if you believe a provider has led you in the wrong direction, then finding a new doctor might very well be the right decision.
Consult a Medical Malpractice Attorney
You may have the right to take legal action seeking compensation for the harm you suffered because of a misdiagnosis. But a lawyer may need to take quick action on your behalf to preserve and protect your ability to file a claim. The sooner you connect with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about a possible misdiagnosis, the better your chances of obtaining critical evidence and securing money to help you pay your bills and recover your health.
We strongly urge you to consult with an attorney even if you aren’t sure that a misdiagnosis happened or that it amounted to malpractice. Without charging you a penny, a skilled attorney can evaluate what happened and advise you about your rights.
Potential Compensation for a Misdiagnosis
Victims of a misdiagnosis amounting to medical malpractice generally have the right to sue the at-fault medical provider for financial compensation.
Every misdiagnosis case differs, but in the typical case an injured patient can demand payment for:
- The cost of treating any health problem that would not have happened if the patient had received a correct diagnosis;
- The expense of seeking a second opinion;
- Amounts the patient paid for unnecessary treatments of a misdiagnosed condition;
- Other out-of-pocket expenses directly resulting from the misdiagnosis;
- Past and future wages and income the patient lost because of health complications, disabilities, or a shortened lifespan caused by the misdiagnosis;
- Pain, suffering, inconvenience, and loss of quality of life result from the health consequences of a misdiagnosis.
In some cases, an attorney might also have the ability to claim punitive or exemplary damages, if a medical provider’s misdiagnosis reflected extreme recklessness or an intent to harm or defraud a patient.
The most reliable way to find out the type and amount of compensation you might recover after being harmed by a medical misdiagnosis is to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.
Contact a Skilled Medical Misdiagnosis Lawyer Today
Not every misdiagnosis amounts to medical malpractice, but some certainly does. Victims of providers who violate the medical standard of care by misdiagnosing a condition deserve compensation to help them pay for treatment and, hopefully, regain their health. An experienced medical misdiagnosis attorney can help.
Do not wait to seek the legal help you need. If you suspect you or someone you love suffered harm because of a medical provider’s misdiagnosis, you have rights that need immediate protection.
Contact a skilled medical misdiagnosis attorney today for a free, confidential case consultation.