A misdiagnosis is a very serious type of medical malpractice because it can cause significant health problems for the patient, both mental and physical. A misdiagnosed illness can lead to a delay in treatment for the actual illness a patient has, but it can also lead to treatments that are unnecessary and possibly harmful.

While a misdiagnosis may not always be considered negligence, it is if the doctor, hospital, or diagnostic lab breached duty of care and caused significant damages to the patient. Some errors may have been out of the hands of the professionals, but many could have been prevented. In these cases a good medical malpractice lawyer can help the patient file a lawsuit, seek compensation, and get justice for the negligence that caused them so much harm.

What is a Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis is any time a patient is diagnosed with an illness, injury, or any other condition that the patient does not actually have. It is a wrong diagnosis. The patient may have another condition that is similar to the misdiagnosed condition, but he or she may also not have any condition at all or at least not anything at all related to what has been diagnosed. When the symptoms and lab tests lead a doctor to make a diagnosis that is not correct, it is called a misdiagnosis. Even if the correct diagnosis is eventually made, a misdiagnosis still occurred.

When Misdiagnosis is Negligent

Misdiagnosis is not always negligent. It is possible for an error in diagnosis to be made even after a doctor took all reasonable steps to make the correct diagnosis. When a misdiagnosis is found to be negligent, it could be a doctor, a lab or lab technician, a nurse, a hospital, or any medical caregiver involved in the process that is responsible and liable for the mistake.

Important in determining whether or not a misdiagnosis was negligent is whether or not the parties involved provided reasonable and competent care. Several things must be proven to prove negligence. First, there must be proof of a duty to care between the doctor or hospital and the patient. Then there must be proof that the medical professionals breached that duty, that the breach led to the misdiagnosis, and that the misdiagnosis caused damages to the patient that were significant.

To prove all these factors it is important to look at the actions the doctor took and any reasonable actions that were not taken and to compare these to the differential diagnosis process that should have occurred. Differential diagnosis includes several steps, such as a physical examination, observing symptoms, using laboratory tests, and taking a medical history to make as accurate a diagnosis as possible. To make a case of negligence or medical malpractice the patient’s legal team must prove that a similar professional in the same situation would have made the correct diagnosis. If an error is found in any diagnostic tests, the liability may fall on a lab or lab worker instead of the diagnosing doctor.

The Consequences of Making a Misdiagnosis

In some cases a misdiagnosis may end up being harmless to the patient, but in many instances it can cause serious harm. If someone is liable for a breach in duty that causes a patient significant harm and damages, there may be medical malpractice involve. When a misdiagnosis is made a patient may suffer harm by not getting treated for the condition he or she actually has and also for being treated for a condition they do not have.

Beyond the harm caused by the treatment or failure to treat, there are several other ways a patient can be harmed by misdiagnosis, depending on the exact situation. For instance, there can be pain, worsening symptoms, mental anguish, additional medical conditions, unnecessary surgery that causes complications, an inability to work, and medical bills.

Common Types of Misdiagnosis

Diagnosing illnesses is not always straightforward. Mistakes can be made even when doctors and others provide reasonable and expected care. There are some types of errors in diagnosing that are more common than others. These include:

  • Misdiagnosing cancer, type of cancer, or stage of cancer.
  • Heart attack, which can be diagnosed as a panic attack or indigestion.
  • A stroke, which may be diagnosed as a migraine.
  • A staph infection, which may be diagnosed as the flu or a cold.
  • Asthma and recurring bronchitis may be diagnosed as one or the other.

Examples of Negligent Misdiagnosis

An extreme and devastating example of misdiagnosis occurred when a patient was told he had prostate cancer. He had surgery immediately to remove his prostate and nearby lymph nodes and nerves in hopes of curing the cancer. The follow up lab results found that there was a mistake. He never had prostate cancer. The initial results were mixed up with those of another patient.

The consequences of this misdiagnosis were very serious. Short-term issues included swelling and fluid drainage at incision sites. Over the long-term he has had to deal with impotence and incontinence. The physical issues have in turn caused mental health issues. The received a malpractice settlement but was unable to disclose the name of the urologist or the lab that made such a big error in diagnosis.

Cancer is commonly misdiagnosed, and in another example of a malpractice case a man was diagnosed as having a benign cyst in his kidney. Years later it was determined that he actually had kidney cancer, but by then it was too late to treat and the cancer had metastasized. Because of the misdiagnosis, he was left with terminal cancer. He received a settlement from the radiologists who misread his MRI results and the hospital, after the misdiagnosis was found to be negligent and a case of malpractice.

In an example of a misdiagnosis case that went to trial, a man was misdiagnosed with small intestine inflammation when he actually had appendicitis. The doctors misread his CT scan and the result was that his appendix ruptured. He had to have surgery, during which he suffered a stroke. The jury in the trial took just three hours to determine he was owed $1.5 million.

A misdiagnosis can be a devastating mistake for a patient and families. Sometimes it causes no harm and is caught quickly, but in too many cases the result is further suffering and even death for the patient. Diagnosing is difficult work and reasonable mistakes can be made, but when medical professionals do not take all the expected steps and care, it may be malpractice. Let a medical malpractice attorney help you decide if you have experienced negligent misdiagnosis and if you have a case to make for compensation.