Failure To Diagnose And Its Consequences
Doctors and other health care providers have a duty to use reasonable care in assessing a patient’s signs and symptoms in order to reach a diagnosis. When a health care provider fails to take adequate steps to diagnose a patient’s condition, the patient will be deprived of treatment necessary for his safety. A disease or serious medical condition will be allowed to progress, leading to serious injury or death for the patient.
If a doctor fails to use reasonable care to diagnose his patient’s condition and serious injury results, the doctor has committed medical malpractice and the patient is legally entitled to compensation.
Advocating For Patients In Failure To Diagnose Cases
At Garau Germano, P.C., we have substantial experience in handling medical malpractice claims arising from a physician or health care provider’s failure to diagnose a condition. We thoroughly investigate these claims and enlist the aid of medical experts in order to determine and prove what the doctor should have done to diagnose the condition, and how the outcome could have been changed if the doctor had exercised reasonable care.
Failing To Diagnose Cancer And Other Serious Conditions
Many failure to diagnose cases involve the failure to diagnose cancer. A family practice doctor fails to order a chest X-ray for a patient with a persistent cough, allowing the patient’s lung cancer to progress undetected. A radiologist reading a mammogram determines that a suspicious lump is a benign cyst when in reality it is breast cancer. In the setting of cancer cases, the failure to make a prompt diagnosis allows the disease to spread and reduces the chance of a cure for the patient.
The results of a physician’s failure to diagnose can be equally tragic outside the setting of cancer cases. An emergency room doctor may decide that a patient’s chest pain is the result of heartburn, missing the actual diagnosis of a heart attack. A family practice physician decides that his patient’s belly pain is being caused by a stomach virus, missing the correct diagnosis of appendicitis. When a doctor or other health care provider fails to take the reasonable and necessary steps to evaluate and diagnose his patient’s condition, they place the patient in danger. The results are often devastating for the patient.
Examples of the failure to diagnose cases our attorneys have successfully resolved include:
- A gastroenterologist fails to perform appropriate testing to evaluate his patient’s complaints of rectal bleeding, leading to a three-year delay in the diagnosis of the patient’s colon cancer.
- Doctors at a VA hospital fail to perform necessary testing on a patient presenting with chest pain before discharging the patient. The patient dies of a heart attack within two days after discharge from the hospital.
- An obstetrician fails to perform required tests in response to her patient’s complaints of decreased fetal movement. A diagnosis of fetal distress is missed, resulting in the baby being stillborn a week later.
Has Your Doctor Misdiagnosed You?
Perhaps you woke up one morning with a strange sensation, or you began noticing pain, discomfort or pressure you had never felt before. Maybe your symptoms overtook you suddenly, landing you in the emergency room. Your doctor undoubtedly ran diagnostic tests that may have included blood work, scans and endless questions before referring you to a specialist.
This was a frightening time for you, and the uncertainty may have been as upsetting as the symptoms. When your doctor finally decided on diagnosis and gave your condition a name, you may have felt relieved to know the truth. If the treatment for that condition did not relieve the symptoms, there is a chance you were misdiagnosed. But how do you know for sure?
Getting It Right
Misdiagnosis is one of the most common medical errors in Indiana and across the country. If you accepted your doctor’s diagnosis and submitted to the recommended treatment, but your health failed to improve, you have the right to question the diagnosis. Reaching a diagnosis is not an easy process, but there are ways your doctor can improve the chances of getting it right, for example:
- Asking the right questions and really listening when you describe your symptoms
- Ordering the appropriate tests to rule out as many potential conditions as possible
- Repeating any lab work that yielded inconclusive or abnormal results
- Basing tests and conclusions on your most current medical records, not outdated information
- Confirming that the lab results contain no discrepancies, such as belonging to a different patient
- Taking the time to explain how he or she arrived at the diagnosis
- Being willing to consider alternative diagnoses
Perhaps the least helpful approach you can take to this situation is remaining passive and accepting your doctor’s conclusions when your instinct tells you something is not right. Like many, you may take advantage of some credible websites available to find alternate explanations for your symptoms. You have the right to educate yourself and to present your findings to your doctor. If your doctor is less than willing to allow your participation in your own health care, you may be right to consider this a red flag.
When Is Misdiagnosis Malpractice?
The human body is complicated. Medical diagnosis can be challenging since different people can experience the same symptoms but have different diagnoses. Both you and your doctor want to figure out the right diagnosis so that you can work together on a treatment plan. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis happens, but it is not always a case for malpractice. These are the factors that identify a misdiagnosis as malpractice.
No. 1: The failure must have caused your injury
Many cases of malpractice that include a misdiagnosis come with a serious injury. The wrong diagnosis can mean that you do not receive the treatment you need, or, in some cases, any treatment at all.
When you have a health care concern, keep track of the timeline. Your doctor is taking notes about your health, and you should, too. Write down events, such as:
- Ordered tests
- Change in diagnosis
- Change in treatment or medication
- New or worsening symptoms
Your notes are not only for making a malpractice claim. They will be helpful if you need a second opinion or if there is an issue with your insurance coverage.
No. 2: The method matters
Getting to a diagnosis is often a process of elimination. Since many people can have the same symptoms but a different diagnosis, in a medical malpractice claim, it matters how the doctor came to the wrong conclusion.
Part of a malpractice claim is how your doctor came to the wrong conclusion. In most claims, the doctor did not consider the right diagnosis or considered it but did not do the correct tests to confirm it.
During your diagnosis and treatment, try to understand as much as possible about why your doctor is taking a particular path. When you and your doctor have honest communication, and you participate in the diagnosis process, you can help your doctor consider every possibility.
How To Prove Medical Malpractice Due To Misdiagnosis
To file a medical malpractice lawsuit for misdiagnosis, you must be able to prove the following:
- A doctor-patient relationship existed
- The doctor acted negligently by failing to provide treatment in a reasonably skilled and competent fashion
- The doctor’s negligence lead to your injury
Proving Doctor Negligence
The differential diagnosis method helps doctors identify a disease or condition. They do this by making a list of your possible diagnoses in order of probability. Then, the strength of each diagnosis is tested through the use of the following:
- Further medical observations
- Asking detailed questions about symptoms and medical history
- Ordering tests
- Specialist referrals
The hope is that several potential diagnoses will be ruled out as more information is uncovered. In the end, just one diagnosis should remain.
For a viable medical malpractice suit to exist, you must be able to prove that another doctor in a similar specialty, under similar circumstances, wouldn’t have misdiagnosed your illness or condition. Essentially, this means you must prove one of the following:
- The doctor failed to include the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list, and a reasonably skilled and competent doctor in a similar situation would have.
- The doctor included the proper diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list but didn’t conduct the relevant tests or pursue specialist opinions to investigate the diagnosis’ viability.
Diagnostic Testing Errors
Often, in order to provide a diagnosis, your doctor must rely on results from laboratory tests, radiology films or other types of tests. However, medical testing is not foolproof. Sometimes, a test will produce false positive and false negative results.
Testing errors can occur in the following ways:
- Faulty diagnostic equipment
- Human error
- Not following pre-test instructions
While your doctor should always perform multiple tests and not solely rely on laboratory results, in a case like this, your doctor may not be the liable party for the misdiagnosis. Instead, for example, the technician that misread the pathology slide may be responsible for your injury. Regardless of who is at fault, you’ll need to prove that the error occurred due to negligence.
Taking Legal Action For Failure To Diagnose
A doctor who merely treats your symptoms with more and more prescriptions risks not only failing to treat your condition but also developing serious interactions or side effects. If your doctor’s missed diagnosis led to further injury, you have options.
While no amount of money can replace your good health or recover the time you spent suffering, bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit can send a strong message to your medical professional and potentially save others from the same fate.
Frequently Asked Questions About Misdiagnosis
Being misdiagnosed can be not only seriously frustrating but also extremely dangerous. If you are misdiagnosed and begin a treatment plan for the wrong ailment, that means your true condition is not being adequately addressed and can lead to further medical issues.
Here are the answers to your questions about misdiagnosis:
What is a birth injury and how does it differ from a birth defect?
A birth injury is a form of medical negligence that occurs while a woman is giving birth. It is the direct or indirect result of a medical provider deviating from the expected standard of care. Birth defects, however, are conditions that develop while the fetus is still in the mother’s womb. Some birth defects can be caused by medical malpractice.
What are common ‘failure to diagnose’ scenarios?
Sadly, there are many examples of doctors failing to make an accurate diagnosis and in a timely manner. Some of the most common examples include:
- Failure to diagnose a heart condition
- Failure to diagnose cancer
- Failure to diagnose abdominal pain
- Failure to order relevant tests
- Misdiagnosing the condition
- Delayed diagnosis
- Misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed preeclampsia
Granted, doctors are human. No human is perfect; even doctors can make mistakes with medical care. However, if a doctor’s mistake deviated from the expected standard of care owed to you as a patient, this could be an instance of medical malpractice.
What are common causes of diagnostic errors?
Diagnostic errors often arise due to:
- Inadequate training
- Inadequate time with patient
- Doctor overconfidence
- Lack of information
- Failure to perform tests
- Systems errors
- Misreading charts or records
As we mentioned, diagnostic errors resulting from medical malpractice are much more than just mistakes. They can have life-changing results and they arise from a health care professional’s negligence with your care.
How can negligence lead to a misdiagnosis?
Misdiagnosis is often influenced by negligence in the following ways:
- Misinterpretation of test results
- Failure to learn the patient’s medical history
- Failure to order tests
- Test delays
- Lack of diagnosis confirmation by other healthcare professionals
- Failure to pursue further diagnostic tests with the patient when startling elements are present
Is my doctor within his or her rights for refusing to request a second opinion?
It depends on the circumstances. A doctor must violate the standard of care in order to be found medically negligent for something they’ve done.
If your ailment is not easy to diagnose and the results are ambiguous, the standard of care in such a circumstance may warrant a second opinion. In order to use this argument in court, you’ll need to prove that getting a second opinion is the proper standard of care for this situation.
Can I sue my doctor even if it has been years since the misdiagnosis?
In the state of Indiana, you have two years from the date you learned of the misdiagnosis to file suit. However, if you didn’t find out about the misdiagnosis until after two years from the date it occurred, you’ll need to prove that it took some time to discover the medical error.
Indiana has a special rule that allows you to toll the statute of limitations for 90 days. This means that you can delay the running of the clock for 90 days by filing a “proposed complaint” with the “medical review panel.”
What damages are recoverable in a misdiagnosis case?
In order to recover damages in a misdiagnosis case, you’ll need to prove that your doctor’s negligent misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis caused your injury or illness to exacerbate to a point it wouldn’t have if it had been properly diagnosed in a reasonable amount of time.
Economic and non-economic damages are possible, but which ones your case is eligible for depends on your particular situation.
Will my case be impacted if I pursue treatment?
No, your case will not be negatively affected if you pursue medical treatment. The truth is, if you don’t seek medical treatment after finding out you have a certain ailment brought on by a healthcare professional’s negligence, then your case may be diminished.
What are some things I can do to help prevent a misdiagnosis?
You can do the following things to help prevent a misdiagnosis:
- Speak up – Ask lots of questions about your diagnosis and treatment. Ask questions like, “What else could this be?” Don’t stop asking questions until you are completely satisfied with the answers.
- Get a second opinion – Be sure to tell the doctor about all of your symptoms. Be unbiased – don’t lead their thinking toward the first doctor’s diagnosis.
- Be aware of your family medical history – Be sure your doctor is aware of it too. Studies show you can learn a lot about the kinds of illnesses you may have or are likely to contract from your family medical history.
- Bring someone to your doctor visits – It can be challenging to process difficult medical news and make note of all the pertinent details simultaneously. Take a friend or family member with you to remind you of the questions you want to ask and to help you record important information.
- Re-check your pathology – If your diagnosis is based on your pathology report from a biopsy, it may be helpful to have it reviewed a second time. It’s frightening to consider, but pathology is incorrectly interpreted more often than you might think. If your pathology is improperly interpreted, then your diagnosis and treatment will likely also be wrong.
An incorrect diagnosis can be a very difficult situation to endure, but you don’t have to live the rest of your life without recourse. Our attorneys have helped many other people in similar situations recover compensation, and we may be able to help you, too. If you need us, we’re here to help.
Contact Our Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If you or a loved one has suffered serious harm as a result of a doctor’s failure to diagnose a condition, the Indianapolis personal injury attorneys at Garau Germano, P.C., can help. Our medical malpractice lawyers will work to hold the responsible health care providers accountable for the error and to obtain maximum damages on your behalf.