When does a misdiagnosis give rise to a medical negligence claim? This depends on the circumstances of each case, but there are some general principles that apply to all cases. First, under Ohio law, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider fails to act reasonably, deviates from accepted standards if medical care, or unnecessarily puts the patient in harm’s way. Further, the patient must prove that if the healthcare provider had made acceptable choices, the patient would have avoided harm.
When there is a missed diagnosis, a medical malpractice lawyer will first look at why it occurred. We use the same methodology that physicians use: the so-called “differential diagnosis.” That is, based on the patient’s presentation, including past medical history, current symptoms and exam and test results, a list of all possible diagnoses is made. Then, life-threatening conditions are considered first and either ruled in or out. A physician should work through the list of potential diagnoses (the differential) to find the applicable diagnosis. In doing so, the doctor has to take into account all of the patient’s symptoms and consider that a patient may have more than one thing wrong with them.
Delayed, missed and inaccurate diagnoses may occur for a variety of reasons. The four most common reasons are: (a) inexperienced physicians do not consider all possible diagnoses within the differential; (b) the doctor jumps to conclusions without properly ruling out potential diagnoses; (c) communication error; and (d) misread test results.
A recent article in Inside Medical Liability, a trade magazine for medical professional liability professionals, sheds some light on how healthcare providers can avoid missed diagnosis arising out of a misread test result. The article points out that “
To reduce misdiagnosis, the author suggested the following:
- Doctors must reflect on their diagnosis to be sure it makes sense.
- Doctors must really listen to the patient.
- Doctors should not trust your intuition.
- Doctors must always use a differential diagnosis.
- Doctors should use second opinions.
- Doctors should give patient clear instructions, including letting them know how to get back in touch if symptoms change or persist.
- Doctors must be sure to check the results of all ordered tests and consults.
- Doctors should speak directly with radiologists and pathologists about test results if they have any questions.
- Doctors should encourage nurses and consultants to alert them about concerns about the diagnosis or treatment.