Types of Medical Diagnostic Errors


When a doctor makes a mistake and doesn’t correctly diagnose an illness, the results can be tragic. The patient can suffer great harm and may even die.

The problem of medical misdiagnosis is more common than many people realize. An astonishing 12 million adults are misdiagnosed in outpatient care in the United States every year. That comes out to one patient out of every twenty.

If you or a loved one were harmed by a medical diagnosis error, you may be able to sue for medical malpractice. If the medical professional was negligent, you may be awarded compensation for the expenses and suffering that arose from the diagnostic mistake.

Types of Medical Misdiagnoses

Doctors have a professional duty to perform their work so that it meets a certain standard of care. They are not expected to be perfect, but they have a duty to be careful, attentive, and knowledgeable when practicing their profession, including when they diagnose patients.

Doctors can fall short of that standard in several ways:

  • The diagnosis can be flat-out wrong.
  • The diagnosis can be partially correct, but not go far enough. For example, if a patient suffers from two diseases, it would be a misdiagnosis if the doctor correctly diagnosed one but failed to recognize the other.
  • It’s also a misdiagnosis if a doctor identifies a disease but not until it is too late to give the patient the necessary care.

Wrong Diagnosis

Many diseases have similar symptoms. If a doctor is careless or otherwise fails to meet professional standards and picks the wrong disease, the consequences can be severe.

For example, if someone is having a heart attack, and their symptoms are misdiagnosed as anxiety or indigestion, the result can be fatal because the person will not get the emergency care they need. Women are especially likely to have their heart disease misdiagnosed as anxiety

Other common medical diagnostic errors include lupus being misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease being misdiagnosed as the flu, and multiple sclerosis being misdiagnosed as a viral infection.

Missed Diagnosis

Sometimes a patient will have a disease, and their doctor won’t recognize it all. Instead of identifying the wrong disease, as is the case with the wrong diagnoses discussed above, the doctor will tell the patient that he or she is fine. The result is that the patient does not get the treatment that they need.

Delayed Diagnosis

Sometimes a diagnosis is correct, but the doctor didn’t recognize the problem right away and made the diagnosis later than he or she should have. A delayed diagnosis can have serious or fatal consequences for people who have diseases where early treatment would have been helpful or essential.

Failure to Diagnose Other Diseases

Often patients have two or more diseases. These can be related to each other or completely unrelated. It’s a medical diagnostic error if a doctor diagnoses one of a patient’s diseases but not the other or others.

Failure to Recognize Complications

A doctor may correctly diagnose a patient’s disease but fail to identify complicating factors that affect the course of the disease. As a result, the patient may not get all of the treatment they need.

Misdiagnosis in an Emergency Room

Many medical diagnostic errors take place in outpatient settings — doctor’s offices and clinics. However, patients are also misdiagnosed in hospitals. Mistakes made by doctors in emergency rooms can be especially dangerous.

These mistakes are unfortunately common. In busy emergency rooms, medical staff may be overwhelmed by a large number of patients. Doctors are often rushed. ERs can be especially short-staffed late at night and on holidays.

Common emergency room medical diagnostic errors include:

Misreading x-rays. If a radiologist is not available or is rushed, a problem that should have been identified on an x-ray may be overlooked.

Heart attack misdiagnoses. As mentioned earlier, women are more likely to be misdiagnosed than men when they are having heart attacks. That is because women’s heart attack symptoms are often different from men’s. Women may not have the pain in the chest and left arm that is more typical of men’s heart attacks. A doctor may fail to recognize a woman’s symptoms as a heart attack and discharge her from the ER when she should have been given emergency treatment.

Abdominal pain misdiagnoses. Abdominal pain can have many causes. Doctors need to ask patients the right questions to determine the actual cause. A doctor who fails to do so and sends a patient home without proper treatment or tests may be committing malpractice.

Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice?

If you believe that you or a loved one were harmed by a medical diagnostic error, you may be able to sue the doctor for medical malpractice. In some cases, you may be able to sue a hospital or pharmacy.

To recover an award in a medical malpractice case, you will need to show that:

  • The person or entity you are suing did not meet the professional standard for providing diagnoses.
  • You were harmed by the medical diagnostic error.

You will need to provide evidence to show that the doctor was negligent and to support your claims for damages. An experienced medical malpractice attorney knows how to gather all the necessary evidence and how to present it to make the strongest possible case.

If you win a medical malpractice claim, you may be awarded payment for your medical bills, loss of income, pain, and suffering, and other losses that you suffered because of the medical diagnostic error.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

Our medical malpractice team would be glad to evaluate your situation. Our law firm, Raynes & Lawn, has a Tier 1 ranking for medical malpractice law in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and has received many other national and local honors. Simply fill out our contact form or call us at 1-800-535-1797 and we will get back to you to make an appointment for a free, confidential, and no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.

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