Many medical malpractice lawsuits arise from the misdiagnosis of a medical condition, illness, or injury. If the doctor gets the diagnosis wrong, the chances of getting the therapy right is greatly reduced.

When a doctor’s misdiagnosis of a patient leads to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all, a patient’s condition can become much worse and the patient may even die.

Two Decades of Diagnostic Errors

According to a 2013 study by John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, medical misdiagnoses made up the lion’s share of medical malpractice payouts. The Johns Hopkins Researchers studied 350,000 medical malpractice settlements reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) between 1986 and 2010. Of all of the malpractice claims, diagnostic errors led the pack, accounting for about 35 percent of the total payments of $38.8 billion.

Deadly and Disabling Errors

According to Johns Hopkins, misdiagnosis claims were more likely to involve death and disability than other types of malpractice. Most diagnostic errors occurred in outpatients, but those that occurred while a person was in the hospital were more likely to be fatal, the study showed. The researchers estimated that the number of misdiagnosis-related claims that cause preventable, permanent damage or death may be as high as 160,000 cases each year.

Types of Misdiagnoses

There are several types of diagnostic errors, including wrong diagnosis, missed diagnosis and delayed diagnosis of primary or secondary medical conditions. Misdiagnoses typically stem from the following problems.

  • Poor technique
  • Failure to recognize symptoms
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Failure to order tests
  • Misread radiologic images
  • Mix-ups with patient’s test results
  • Not notifying a patient of test results
  • Errors resulting in the patient undergoing the wrong treatment

Proving Medical Malpractice Based on Diagnostic Errors

Patients usually must prove three things in order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit based on a wrong diagnosis:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed.
  • The doctor was negligent.
  • The doctor’s negligence caused actual injury to the patient.

Errors in Diagnostic Tests

Sometimes doctors fail to correctly diagnose a medical condition because they relied on inaccurate results from laboratory tests or radiology films. For example, the diagnostic equipment could have been faulty or a lab technician or specialist may have missed something in an x-ray film or pathology slide. Although the doctor may not be negligent under this scenario, the lab technician or x-ray specialist may be. Again, the patient must prove that the error was the fault of negligence.

Patients can play a role in minimizing misdiagnosis

Patients can play an important role in helping to reduce the incidence of diagnostic errors. For example, patients should provide their doctors with an accurate medical history, adhere to the prescribed follow up plans, keep return visit appointments to discuss abnormal test results, and always ask questions to clarify any instructions that they do not clearly understand. Open communication between the patient and physician can be pivotal in helping to prevent misdiagnosis.

If you or someone you know have been harmed by a medical misdiagnosis, please contact my office to discuss your case confidentially.

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