Failure to Diagnose, Misdiagnose, and Delayed Diagnosis Lawyers

A large number of medical malpractice lawsuits stem from the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition, illness, or injury. When a doctor’s diagnosis error leads to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all, a patient’s condition can be made much worse.

The law does not hold doctors legally responsible for all diagnostic errors. Instead, patients usually must prove three things in order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit based on a wrong diagnosis:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed.
  • The doctor was negligent — that is, did not provide treatment in a reasonably skillful and competent manner.
  • The doctor’s negligence caused actual injury to the patient.

There are several ways that physicians and other medical professionals can make diagnostic mistakes:

  • Wrong diagnosis: Also called misdiagnosis, this is when the doctor picks the wrong illness. For example, a doctor diagnoses a patient with a gastric problem when in fact the patient was having a heart attack. Or, the doctor diagnoses cancer when the patient is cancer-free.
  • Missed diagnosis: The doctor gives the patient a clean bill of health, when in fact the patient has an illness or disease.
  • Delayed diagnosis: The doctor eventually makes the correct diagnosis, but after significant delay. Late diagnosis is one of the more common types of diagnosis error.
  • Failure to recognize complications: The doctor makes the right diagnosis, but fails to identify complications or factors which change or aggravate the illness or condition.
  • Failure to diagnose a related disease: The doctor correctly diagnoses one disease, but fails to diagnose a related disease. A related disease is one that often goes hand-in-hand with the primary condition or that has a higher risk of incidence in patients with the primary disease.
  • Failure to diagnose an unrelated disease: The doctor correctly diagnoses one disease, but fails to diagnose a completely unrelated second disease.

Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions

Below are a few conditions that are commonly missed or mistaken for something else.

  • Aortic Dissection: A 2009 study found that nearly a third of patients suffering from aortic dissection were initially misdiagnosed.  
  • Bacterial Meningitis: This shares the same symptoms as the flu, which is why it is ofter misdiagnosed. 
  • Ectopic Pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a woman’s fertilized egg implants in her fallopian tube rather than the uterus lining. Left untreated, the fallopian tube can burst, causing dangerous amounts of bleeding. By the time a woman experiences symptoms of very extreme abdominal pain and fainting, it is likely that the ectopic pregnancy has already ruptured.
  • Encephalitis: This has been misdiagnosed as mental illness. Encephalitis is a dangerous condition that causes inflammation of the brain. The causes include both viral and bacterial infections. Symptoms of encephalitis include acute onset of fever, headaches, confusion and seizures. 
  • Endometriosis: This is commonly misdiagnosed as appendicitis, ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer and more. This is primarily because endometriosis is a complex disorder that can often mask itself as other conditions, due to its similar symptoms to said disorders.
  • Heart Attack: What a heart attack feels like can vary, and sometimes people have few if any symptoms at all. Older people don’t always have the same symptoms as younger people do, so a young person may have crushing chest pain, and an old person may not feel anything or say I have a little indigestion. According to research, women having a heart attack are more likely to be misdiagnosed because they often don’t experience the classic symptom of chest pain.
  • Hydrocephalus: The most common mistakes made in diagnosing and treating hydrocephalus include prenatal failure to detect signs of and diagnose the Hydrocephalus condition, failure to detect and fix malfunctioning shunts, and failure to detect and properly treat infected shunts.
  • Sepsis: There are scenarios where a patient exhibits the signs and symptoms of sepsis and/or septic shock and is misdiagnosed or left without proper treatment during a valuable time window when treatment will still make a significant difference in the patient’s prognosis.
  • Lower Respiratory Infections (Pneumonia): Pneumonia shares symptoms with several other conditions such as the flu, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and acute bronchitis. This can lead to a misdiagnosis. 
  • Lyme Disease: Lyme disease is easy to misdiagnose because the symptoms mimic the flu or an illness. The Lyme disease blood tests are not reliable and can cause more harm that good in detecting Lyme disease. The tests sometimes yield false negative results that throw doctors off the scent of other consistent symptoms. 
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is all too often misunderstood and mistreated in teenage women. It is over-diagnosed because the symptoms include irregular periods, high levels of male hormones, and cysts on ovaries. The problem with this is most teenage girls have irregular periods (due to stress, anorexia, too much exercise, etc.). 
  • Pulmonary Embolism: A 2013 study found that 33.5 percent of patients with pulmonary embolism were sent home or admitted to hospitals with a wrong diagnosis. Pulmonary embolism can be mistaken for other conditions such as a heart attack or pneumonia.
  • Stroke: The American Heart Association found that young adults with stroke symptoms are often misdiagnosed with vertigo, migraine, or alcohol intoxication. According to researchers, “Doctors overlook or discount early signs of potentially disabling strokes in tens of thousands of Americans each year.”

If you think you have suffered a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, call our McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt team today at 215-367-5151 and schedule a free consultation about your case. Contact us today.  

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