Having to go to the doctor because you fear you are suffering from a disease or medical condition can be scary. You go to your doctor, trusting he or she will be able to assess your condition, order whatever diagnostic tests are necessary, and provide you with an accurate diagnosis. However, if she does her job incorrectly or misses something important, you could suffer serious, permanent harm.
Unfortunately, delayed or misdiagnoses are not uncommon. Despite the rigorous training and certification standards to which doctors are subject, some still make diagnosis errors. In a 2014 study in the BMJ Quality & Safety journal, researchers reported that misdiagnosis affects at least one in 20 adults each year, and that roughly half of those cases had the potential to cause serious harm.
When a patient suffers harm because of a blatant, preventable diagnosis mistake, she might be eligible to file a claim or lawsuit to recover damages. Medical malpractice is a complicated area of the law and patients must prove many factors to justify a suit. Below, we review the basics about misdiagnosis and legal remedies. A misdiagnosis lawyer in Silver Spring from DuBoff & Associates, Chartered can help you with your case.
What factors can contribute to misdiagnosis?
The term “misdiagnosis” refers to several types of scenarios.
- Wrong diagnosis
- Delayed diagnosis
- Failure to diagnose
There are a lot of factors and circumstances that can lead to a misdiagnosis. For example, if the patient has a very rare condition, diagnosis can be a very long and complicated process. Overworked doctors or doctors with a heavy patient load may be more likely to make mistakes, too. Also, some doctors may be apprehensive about ordering expensive diagnostic tests if they know the patient is uninsured or has little funds.
Researchers from multiple medical centers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, performed a study to determine the primary causes of diagnostic errors in medicine and reported their findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2005. They found that the causes for errors generally fall into three categories. (In many instances, several factors present in a patient’s case led to the mistake.)
- No-fault – Researchers were not able to find the root cause of some cases of misdiagnosis. This was the least common category.
- System-related – Faults within the healthcare system or setting contributed to 65 percent of diagnostic errors. Examples include problems with policies and procedures, inefficient processes, teamwork, and communication.
- Cognitive problems – In 74 percent of all misdiagnosis cases the researchers studied, errors were present in the physician’s thought processes. In fact, they found that the single most common contributing factor to diagnostic mistakes is “premature closure,” or the physician’s “failure to continue considering reasonable alternatives” after reaching an initial diagnosis. Other common cognitive problems included misjudging the findings, faulty perception, and faulty context generation.
Are diagnostic errors always the doctor’s fault?
While the treating doctor is the general overseer of your care, many other medical professionals potentially play a role in your diagnosis.
Nurses and phlebotomists may make mistakes in the administration of the diagnostic tests. They can also accidentally switch or contaminate samples. Likewise, lab workers can make the same kinds of mistakes. The radiologist may misread the results or mistakenly send another patient’s results instead of yours to your primary doctor. Even transport company personnel that take the samples from your doctor to the lab can contribute to errors.
Because there are so many possible causes, factors, and parties involved in your care and diagnosis, it can be challenging to identify fault. A medical malpractice attorney can help. A lawyer who regularly handles misdiagnosis malpractice suits will be able to investigate the facts of your case, do background research, and establish which party or parties were primarily at fault and accountable for your harm.
Can I sue for medical malpractice?
Not all mistakes in the diagnostic process are malpractice. In order to have valid grounds upon which to pursue a lawsuit, a victim must establish several elements.
- Negligence – The physician (or other healthcare professional) breached his or her duty of care; he or she made a mistake that other doctors in the same position would not have made.
- Causation – The doctor’s mistake caused your harm. In other words, had it not been for the doctor’s error, you would not have suffered the injury/complication.
- Damages – You sustained actual harm and damages because of the doctor’s negligence. For example, if a doctor misdiagnoses or does not diagnose a patient’s cancer and that patient must undergo longer, more expensive therapy or requires surgery, the doctor may be liable. If the doctor made a misdiagnosis, but you did not suffer injuries as a result, you cannot sue because you have no losses to recover.
If you have a valid case, you can recover past, current, and future medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and other injury-related damages. To determine if you qualify and to pursue the compensation you need, speak with a medical malpractice lawyer at DuBoff & Associates, Chartered. Contact the law firm that cares at 301-495-3131.