Missed diagnoses are among the most common types of medical errors that doctors sometimes make. If you go to the doctor because you are feeling unwell and are told that you are fine, the doctor might have made a medical mistake especially when you are suffering from a serious condition that he or she failed to diagnose or identify. Whether or not that type of error will amount to medical malpractice will depend on whether it caused your undiagnosed condition to significantly worsen, resulting in injuries and damages. At Raynes & Lawn, our medical malpractice attorneys represent people who have been harmed by diagnostic errors, including missed diagnoses.
Missed Diagnosis vs. Misdiagnosis
The first thing to address is the difference between a missed diagnosis and a misdiagnosis. Many people confuse these two types of diagnostic errors, but they have distinct differences. A missed diagnosis occurs when a doctor fails to diagnose a patient’s illness or injury. An example of this might include a doctor failing to diagnose a person’s symptoms of a heart attack and sending him or her home.
In a misdiagnosis, a doctor diagnoses a patient with the wrong condition. For example, a doctor might misread lab reports and diagnose a patient with cancer when he or she actually has a benign cyst. Misdiagnoses can also result in serious injuries when a patient receives unnecessary treatment or fails to receive the proper treatment for his or her condition.
Both missed diagnoses and misdiagnoses can amount to medical malpractice in some cases. If a doctor fails to notice a patient’s symptoms and diagnose his or her condition, a missed diagnosis has occurred. In the previous example of a doctor sending a person home despite his or her symptoms of a heart attack, a missed diagnosis could prove fatal. If you are suffering from serious symptoms, it is important for your doctor to recognize them and promptly diagnose your condition so that you can receive the treatment you need to recover.
According to one study, missed diagnoses of people suffering from vascular events, cancer, and serious infections account for an estimated 75% of serious injuries caused by diagnostic errors in the U.S. Failing to diagnose these and other types of illnesses can cause the patients’ conditions to worsen since the patients might not receive the care he or she needs to treat the condition. In some cases, missed diagnoses can prove fatal when a doctor fails to accurately diagnose someone suffering from a major cardiac event or another serious medical emergency.
Are Missed Diagnoses Always Medical Malpractice?
By itself, a missed diagnosis will not always mean that a patient will have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim. For example, if your doctor failed to diagnose you with a cold, you probably will not have grounds to file a malpractice claim. Your health status following the missed diagnosis plays a large role. If your doctor missed a diagnosis of a life-threatening condition that worsened because of the failure to diagnose, you might have a claim. For example, if an oncologist failed to diagnose you with cancer, you might have a claim if it progressed to terminal cancer when it could have been treated if it had been diagnosed on time.
Just like everyone else, doctors are not perfect and are not expected to be. However, they are expected to provide care to patients that meets the expected standard of care for doctors in their geographic areas and fields of practice. A general practitioner in a small town might not be expected to provide the same type of care as an oncologist working at a major research hospital in a large city. However, doctors are still expected to provide treatment that meets the standards of what similarly situated doctors in their areas and with the same levels of education and skill would be expected to provide.
Proving Malpractice for a Missed Diagnosis
If a doctor missed your diagnosis, you might have a claim if you can prove that your doctor violated the expected standard of care. This requires you to prove the following elements:
- You had established a doctor-patient relationship with the doctor who missed your diagnosis.
- The doctor’s missed diagnosis fell below the standard of care expected of minimally competent doctors in the area.
- The missed diagnosis caused your injuries or worsened condition.
- You suffered calculable damages as a result.
To prove these elements, you will have to gather supporting evidence for your claim to demonstrate that the doctor’s diagnostic error happened when you were under his or her care and that you were injured and suffered harm as a result. You will need to gather copies of your medical records to support your claim, including the following:
- Nurse’s and doctor’s notes
- Lab reports
- Test results
- Medical records
- Hospital records
- Medical bills
- Wage statements
You have a right to get copies of your medical records. You can ask for copies at the hospital or medical facility where you sought care. If you run into trouble trying to get copies of your records, your attorney can get them for you.
Pennsylvania law also requires people to file certificates of merit when they file medical malpractice lawsuits. A certificate of merit attests that a medical expert has reviewed the evidence and believes that medical malpractice caused your injuries. This means that it will be necessary to retain a medical expert before you can file a malpractice claim.
Speak with the Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Raynes & Lawn
If your doctor failed to diagnose your serious medical condition, you might have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim. The attorneys at Raynes & Lawn can review your medical records together with an expert and determine whether your potential claim is merited. To learn more about your rights, contact us today for a free consultation by calling 1-800-535-1797.
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