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Many medical malpractice cases stem from misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Diagnostic errors are often honest mistakes; some diseases can look very similar. However, it is sometimes possible to hold the doctor responsible if you or a loved one are misdiagnosed.
How Do You Know If You Have Been Misdiagnosed?
Generally, misdiagnosis comes out when you do not respond to treatment or when you get a second opinion. In some cases, misdiagnosis may never come out. For example, if you are told you have the flu when you actually have a different respiratory virus, and recover anyway as the treatments are essentially the same.
There Are a Number of Medical Diagnosis Errors:
- Incorrect diagnosis, where a doctor diagnoses you with the wrong illness.
- Failure to recognize complications, where a doctor gives the correct diagnosis but misses a potential complication (for example, giving the wrong medication because they did not consider a factor such as obesity)
- Missed diagnosis, where a medical professional misseses a disease completely.
- Delayed diagnosis, where a medical professional does not give the correct diagnosis quickly enough. This is one of the most common errors, and can result in death, disability, or the need for far more expensive treatment.
- Failure to diagnose a related disease, that is one which goes along with the diagnosed disease.
- Failure to diagnose a second disease that is not related.
Misdiagnosis Can Cause Death or Debilitation
However, in other cases, misdiagnosis can cause death or debilitation. The question from a malpractice perspective is not whether an incorrect diagnosis occurred, but hinges on two factors:
- Whether or not the doctor was negligent. A good doctor can still make a mistake; determining negligence involves assessing what diagnostic methods the doctor used and whether they were appropriate for the symptoms. The key question is whether another doctor would also have got it wrong.
- Whether the misdiagnosis caused actual injury. As already mentioned, in some cases an incorrect diagnosis is no big deal and it may even not change how the patient is treated. In others, it can be serious.
You also have to have a doctor-patient relationship. In some cases, the error might have been made by the lab the doctor sent a sample to; in this case you may have a case against the lab. Samples may be tested for the wrong thing, forgotten, or marked with the wrong code. They can even be switched; although labs normally do their best to avoid these errors, they still happen. Faulty equipment is another significant cause of misdiagnosis, and generally gives you a good cause for a lawsuit.
What Damage Can Misdiagnosis Cause?
Misdiagnosis or missed/delayed diagnosis can cause anything from no harm to death. Misdiagnosis leads to between 40,000 and 80,000 hospital deaths each year, as well as wasting billions of money.
Most misdiagnoses are of strokes, sepsis, and lung cancer, and they tend to occur more in an emergency situation or an outpatient setting.
Misdiagnosis can cause serious harm to patients, including death or permanent disability. They can also result in you having to spend significant money, whether on delayed treatment or correcting issues caused by incorrect treatment, or on treatment that turns out not to be necessary. Loss of income is another major issue. Always get a second opinion on a serious diagnosis or any recommendation for surgery. Also, consider a second opinion if a medical professional dismisses your issues as “all in your head” or “anxiety”.
Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed than men. Indeed, medical professionals are less familiar with differential symptoms in women, such as heart conditions. Another issue that can cause missed diagnoses is “weight first” treatment, where a doctor refuses to consider proper diagnosis until the patient has lost weight. (In these cases, you should try to get the doctor’s answer in writing and it may be time to consider a new doctor).
You should be an informed patient, although you should not try and diagnose yourself (it’s not entirely a joke that sites like WebMD carry contagious hypochondria). Be willing to look things up and check them, and when put on a new medication double-check with the pharmacist before taking it. Pharmacists find drug interactions and are often better at spotting them than doctors.
What Should You Do Next?
The first thing you need to do is confirm, as best you can, that a misdiagnosis has happened. Request a copy of your medical records and get a second (or even third) opinion. Have a new doctor assess what the likely damage of the mistake was. You will need to take this copy to your attorney. You want a record of the diagnosis, in writing, of tests. Put this together with the correct diagnosis to get a picture of whether this was a mistake or negligence.
You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible after the misdiagnosis is discovered, as you have limited time to file a suit or seek an out of court settlement.
It is your burden to prove that harm was done. Further, most states have protections to keep doctors from receiving too many suits. Harm may be medical, psychological (for example, a false diagnosis of cancer can result in extreme anxiety and distress), financial, or all three. Depending on the situation, you may be able to sue for psychological distress and/or for lost income. However, if you have a good case you should be able to get compensation. Remember that some mistakes are honest, and you have to prove that your doctor was careless.
Were You or a Loved One Misdiagnosed?
Medical malpractice suits, in general, can be hard to pursue. Thus, you should get an experienced lawyer who specializes in the field. At Weltchek, Mallahan and Weltcheck, we have the skill and experience you need to pursue a successful suit. Contact us for a free consultation. We will help you determine whether you were misdiagnosed and how you should move forward.
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.
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