A delay in getting a diagnosis means that a patient may not get needed treatment until they have suffered more, the disease has worsened, or in some devastating cases, until it is too late. It can be very difficult to make a diagnosis in some cases, and doctors must weight symptoms, observations, laboratory tests, and other factors in a process that is not foolproof. A delayed diagnosis is not always negligent.
Sometimes, though, when a doctor fails to make an accurate and timely diagnosis, and the patient suffers as a result, it is considered medical malpractice. If you believe that your doctor should have diagnosed your condition sooner, and that you suffered because of a delay, you may have a case for malpractice. A lawyer specializing in medical malpractice can help guide you through the process of filing a claim or lawsuit.
What is a Delayed Diagnosis?
Many malpractice claims center on the diagnosis because making a diagnosis can be tricky and there is a lot of room for error and also because the consequences of a mistake for a patient can be far-reaching. A delayed diagnosis is any case in which a patient does not get the correct diagnosis in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, the reasonable amount of time is debatable and may be what is under consideration in a malpractice case.
When is Delayed Diagnosis Malpractice?
Not all cases of a delay in diagnosis are found to be negligent or win compensation in malpractice cases. However, delayed diagnosis and other errors in diagnosis are unfortunately common. Studies that analyze medical malpractice claims have found that more than half associated with patient assessment issues were related to a delay in diagnosis or a completely missed diagnosis. Some of the specific mistakes that occurred were failing to order a test or delaying the order, missing assessment information, and failing to develop a differential diagnosis.
The normal process for diagnosing a patient includes the development of a differential diagnosis. This involves assessing and examining the patient and then making a list of possible diagnoses. The options are then eliminated using appropriate tests or observations, sometimes referring the patient to a specialist. Ultimately, those that don’t fit get ruled out and the doctor arrives at the most likely diagnosis. If a doctor can be found to not have followed this process or to have taken or not taken steps that a similar doctor in the same situation would have, he or she may be liable for a delayed diagnosis.
Other ways in which a delayed diagnosis may be considered malpractice include errors in the laboratory and diagnostic tests. These may be negligent errors that are not the fault of the diagnosing doctor, but which may be found to prove a lab technician, a laboratory, a radiologist, or a hospital is negligent in causing a delayed diagnosis. As with any type of malpractice case any error on the part of a doctor or anyone else must be proven to be a breach of duty of care, to have caused harm to the patient and to have caused the patient significant damages.
The Harm Caused by a Delayed Diagnosis
Part of the process of proving malpractice is showing that the mistake made caused a patient harm and damages. A delayed diagnosis may not cause harm, or the harm may be insignificant. In some cases, though, the delay in getting a correct diagnosis can cause very serious problems. A delay may result in the patient not getting needed treatment soon enough. This can cause a condition to worsen, in some unfortunate cases like with cancer, worsening to the point that the illness becomes terminal and untreatable.
A delay in diagnosis can cause a number of specific types of damages: extended pain and suffering, worsening symptoms, emotional suffering, lost time at work, expensive extra medical bills, an additional condition or illness, disability that may be temporary or permanent, chronic symptoms, inability to work or earn a living, and even death.
Cancer Common in Misdiagnosis Cases
One of the unfortunately common types of a delayed diagnosis that can have very serious consequences is the delay in diagnosing cancer. Cancer is a disease that only progresses and gets worse without treatment, so diagnosing in a timely fashion is crucial for giving patients a chance to survive. When cancer goes undiagnosed, it can spread to the point where it becomes more difficult to treat, becomes untreatable, or even becomes terminal.
A delay in cancer diagnosis is not always negligent, as cancer can be difficult to diagnose. But there are many cases in which a doctor or other professional makes a critical error that could have been avoided. An example includes a medical malpractice lawyer in Boston who fell victim to exactly what he fought against in his career. Radiologists misread an MRI scan and determined a cyst in his kidney was benign, when really it was cancerous. Years later the mistake was found, but he was at that point facing terminal, metastatic cancer.
Other Examples of Delayed Diagnosis
Not all cases of delayed diagnosis are related to cancer, but other types of illnesses that go undiagnosed too long can be equally devastating. A recent jury trial found in favor of the plaintiff, a man whose wife died after giving birth in 2013. The jury awarded him a settlement after determining the case involved malpractice. After giving birth the woman returned to the hospital with a fever and other symptoms. Lab results showed she had sepsis, a serious infection, but the nurse practitioner caring for her ignored the results and sent her back home. She later died and was diagnosed with sepsis post-mortem.
In another case, mixed martial arts fighter won a settlement of $22 million after suffering brain damage after a fight. His diagnosis of a blood clot in his brain was delayed, which resulted in his becoming paralyzed on his right side. The negligence was found to be on the part of the New York State Athletic Commission and the Commission’s ringside doctors who failed to get him to the hospital after the fight. This caused a delay in diagnosis and a delay in treatment.
Unfortunately these are just a few of the many examples in which patients and their families suffer because of a delay in diagnosis. In too many of these cases there were errors that should not have occurred or that could have been prevented. If you believe you have a malpractice case involving a delay in diagnosis, be sure to consult with an experienced malpractice lawyer who can help you prove your case.