The Key Differences Between Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Failure to Treat

Call 410-941-3416 for a free medical malpractice consultation

Over $600 million in
verdicts & settlements
for our clients.





Accouting Malpractice




Gas Leak




Business Fraud





Improper care from a medical care professional can lead to dangerous complications and even death. While it’s true that mistakes are made within every profession, careless treatment is a crime. Three common terms that describe negligent treatment from a physician include misdiagnosis failure to diagnose, and failure to treat. While these terms sound similar and can be interrelated, they have different meanings.


A misdiagnosis of practically any medical condition can lead to grave consequences. A misdiagnosis (not to be confused with a missed diagnosis) occurs when your doctor or any other medical professional incorrectly diagnoses you. Diagnosing you with a condition you don’t have can lead to treatment or even surgery you don’t need. Conversely, an incorrect diagnosis can also lead to lack of treatment for the condition you actually have. Sometimes, medication or treatment for the wrong condition can make the illness you’re suffering from become worse.

If you’re suffering from a mild condition and recover on your own, you may never realize you were misdiagnosed. For instance, if your doctor diagnoses your flu as a cold without giving you a flu test, you may recover in a couple of weeks with no complications. However, if your doctor misdiagnoses a life-threatening condition, many complications or even death can occur. If a doctor diagnoses a heart attack patient with indigestion, the consequences could be dire. 

Failure to Diagnose

Sometimes referred to as a missed diagnosis, failure to diagnose can lead to issues as simple as extended discomfort or as serious as death. Failure to diagnose is any situation where a medical professional fails to see the connection between a set of symptoms and an illness. Indeed, failure to diagnose and delayed diagnosis make up the majority of medical negligence lawsuits. Failure to diagnose can lead to:

  • Delayed or no treatment
  • Worsening of symptoms
  • Worsening of the condition
  • Increased medical bills
  • Temporary or permanent disability 
  • Death

Sadly, many cases of failure to diagnose involve cancer. Early diagnosis of cancer is one of the most important features of successful treatment. Failure to diagnose cancer robs the patient of early treatment while the disease progresses. By the time a doctor reaches a diagnosis, the cancer may be incurable.

Failure to Treat

The Key Differences Between Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Failure to Treat

Failure to treat a medical condition can be a result of either misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. In other situations, it may be an occurrence that stands alone. Failure to treat is any situation where a medical professional fails to provide treatment for a condition you actually have. Here are a few examples of situations with failure to treat failure to:

  • Perform medical tests
  • Assess and monitor a patient’s condition
  • Treat a patient due to lack of insurance
  • Refer a patient to a specialist when necessary
  • Inform a patient of all available treatments for their condition
  • Adhere to accepted standards of care

Failure to treat a condition can lead to worsening of the condition, increased medical bills, or in the event of an emergency, even death. For many conditions, delayed treatment or no treatment at all can lead to serious consequences or a considerably more difficult recovery.

Key Differences of Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Failure to Treat

Each of these terms sounds like a situation where the doctor made a mistake. This is true, but the key differences between the three charges might determine whether the physician involved can be charged with malpractice. 

  • Misdiagnosis can result in improper treatment and failure to treat, both of which can be dangerous to the patient.
  • Failure to diagnose typically only results in delayed treatment or no treatment at all.
  • Failure to treat can be a result of either misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose, and can be charged alongside these offenses. It can also be an entirely unrelated charge like refusal to treat due to lack of insurance.

Proving Medical Malpractice

To receive compensation for the negligent acts of any medical professional, a patient must prove medical malpractice occurred. In a medical malpractice case, you must prove that the medical provider deviated from the standard of care and caused harm as a result. While it may seem obvious that the doctor’s actions (or lack thereof) resulted in harm to the patient, the facts are much more difficult in a court of law. 

Proving medical malpractice requires proving:

  • A doctor and patient relationship existed: This simply requires proving that you went to the doctor to seek treatment
  • Failure to uphold the duty of care: Would a similar physician have performed the same tests and potentially reached the same diagnosis? 
  • Negligence from the doctor during the diagnostic process: This may include the fact that the doctor never considered the correct diagnosis, or that the correct diagnosis was considered but tests weren’t performed to rule it out.
  • Negligence was the primary cause of harm: If a doctor medications you didn’t need that resulted in painful side effects or worsening of your current condition, primary cause of harm would be proven. However, if the doctor prescribed harmless medication to your condition, or even helpful, it loses the proof. Sometimes, it’s difficult to prove that the correct diagnosis would have resulted in a different outcome.

Learn More About the Differences Between Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Failure to Treat

Sometimes, a doctor might have performed all the right actions and still reached the wrong diagnosis. This can occur due to a faulty test, or other human error. While the doctor wouldn’t be considered guilty of malpractice in this situation, another technician might be held responsible. Misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and failure to treat are all types of negligence that can be considered medical malpractice.

If any of these charges sound like something you or a loved one has experienced, it’s important to contact an attorney experienced in malpractice lawsuits. When a trained medical professional fails to give you the care your condition requires, you may be entitled to compensation. To find out more about the laws surrounding medical negligence, get in touch with the attorneys at Weltchek, Mallahan, & Weltchek. We can obtain your medical records, examine your case, and help you understand your options for getting the compensation you deserve.

Who Can You Trust with Your Case?

Have you or a loved one been injured due to negligence? We want to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you believe you have a case; time is an important factor. Interested in learning more? Get in touch with us so we can better evaluate and serve your needs in getting the justice your loved one deserves. You may very well be entitled to compensation.


Call For a Free Consultation


Exceptional Peer Recognition

True mavericks in the field of trial advocacy.