When a doctor does not properly diagnose the illness of his or her patient, this is known as misdiagnosis. According to a study in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety, each year there are over 12 million people in the United States who are victims of diagnostic errors. One out of every three cases of misdiagnosis results in serious harm to the patient.
Serious harm caused by a doctor’s misdiagnosis can include injury, complications of untreated illnesses, and possibly death. In some circumstances, the doctor may be legally liable for damages caused by his or her error.
Three Types of Misdiagnosis
A case of misdiagnosis may fall into one of the following three categories:
An inaccurate diagnosis occurs when it’s discovered you have an entirely different ailment from the one your doctor diagnosed you with. This may result in treatment that provides no benefit to you or even exposes you to unnecessary side effects while your actual disease goes untreated.
For example, bacterial meningitis is a disease that is sometimes inaccurately diagnosed as viral meningitis, encephalitis or strep throat, all less serious illnesses. Left untreated, bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage and even death.
Your doctor may brush off or ignore your symptoms, which can delay important diagnostic tests. Early diagnosis and treatment is especially important for certain ailments including cancer where a delayed diagnosis will allow the disease to progress untreated. Once a case of misdiagnosed cancer is finally discovered, it may have advanced to later stages when it can be difficult or even impossible to cure.
A delayed diagnosis can also occur if your doctor failed to order routine screening tests or if the results of such tests were not interpreted correctly.
Failure to Diagnose
Your doctor may rush through your checkups, failing to examine you thoroughly or talk to you about changes to your health. If he or she doesn’t perform adequate examinations or order reasonable testing and screening procedures, you may have an ailment that goes entirely undiagnosed.
As with other forms of misdiagnoses, a failure to diagnose can result in serious harm due to the lack of treatment. If you feel your doctor is not paying enough attention to your concerns or to changes in your health, it is important that you make an appointment with another doctor to get a second opinion.
Key Elements of a Misdiagnosis Lawsuit
Not all medical malpractice lawsuits follow the same strategies. Misdiagnosis lawsuits involve unique elements, and it is important that you are aware of these distinctions.
A misdiagnosis can be declared “reasonable” in some cases. A reasonable misdiagnosis can occur if your doctor makes a diagnostic error that is logical given the symptoms he or she observes.
In making a case for a misdiagnosis lawsuit, you need to prove that another doctor with similar training would have accurately diagnosed your illness under the same circumstances. This is a key element when determining whether or not a misdiagnosis is reasonable.
Two Types of Proven Damages
There are two types of damages or injuries that can occur because of a misdiagnosis:
- Economic — This is a measurable financial hardship that you incur such as lost wages because of your inaccurate, delayed, or failed diagnosis
- Non-economic — Non-economic injury is not as easily measured and may involve more subjective damages such as pain and suffering
In order to win a misdiagnosis lawsuit, you will need to prove that real harm occurred to you as a result of the misdiagnosis.
Expert Testimony Is Limited
All medical malpractice lawsuits involve expert testimony, but in misdiagnosis cases the expert witnesses are only asked a very specific line of questions. Essentially, the medical expert is only asked to consider whether or not the misdiagnosis was reasonable.
Before you even file a misdiagnosis claim, you need to get documents called “affidavit of merit” or “certificate of consultation” depending on what state you are in. These documents state that: you have consulted with a medical professional who was not involved in your case;
that person has concluded that the misdiagnosis rose to the level of medical malpractice; and he or she is willing to serve as your expert witness.
A Medical Malpractice Lawyer May Help
To have the best chance of recovery and receive the best treatment, it’s vital to have your condition diagnosed correctly. If you believe your doctor diagnosed you or your loved incorrectly, a medical malpractice lawyer may be able to help.