Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is a surprisingly common theme in medical malpractice litigation. We see this as a central issue in many of our cases. Misdiagnosis, wrong diagnosis or delayed diagnosis accounts for a substantial number of claims and frequently can make a significant difference, between life and death. Just last year I handled a number of medical claims where the doctors involved failed to do a thorough job in evaluating a patient admitted to the hospital with an acute onset of back pain. Instead of carefully looking at all the test results, the doctors assumed that the pain was due to the patient’s history of low back problems. As a result, the doctors overlooked lab results that indicated that the patient had an infection that led to sepsis. Another case involved a patient that had surgery and the doctors failed to recognize signs and symptoms of a postoperative infection. Instead of treating the infection timely, the patient got worse and by the time the infection was recognized, he died.
Diagnoses that are wrong, missed or delayed affect up to 20 percent of all medical cases, according to an estimate published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s a higher rate than drug errors or wrong-site surgeries, which get more attention according the journal study published last year.
Misdiagnosis can happen for a variety of reasons, including doctors pushed for time or failing to get a sufficiently detailed picture of patients’ symptoms. Physicians can focus too heavily on one disease without considering alternatives, particularly those they rarely see. These and other excuses are ones that we hear all the time in litigation. Bottom line is that when a set of signs and symptoms can be related to a dangerous diagnosis, that can lead to death or serious harm, the life-threatening diagnosis must be ruled out before considering the less serious diagnosis. In upcoming blogs we will talk about other examples that we see all too often that lead to preventable and avoidable fatal outcomes.
In the meantime don’t be afraid to ask for your test results and reports and ask your doctor to explain them. Also ask questions about the certainty of the diagnosis, and consider seeking a second opinion on the diagnosis so as limit the chance of a #misdiagnosis