What Happens When the Doctor Is Wrong?
Doctors Have a Duty to Make Careful, Accurate Diagnoses
“Should I go to the doctor?”
For many people, that question bounces around the mind for days or weeks before they finally decide to go.
“It’s probably nothing,” we tell ourselves. “But if it is something, the doctor will be able to tell me.”
Imagine the horror, though, of getting a clean bill of health only to learn much, much later – after things have gotten much, much worse — that the doctor was wrong.
Even more disturbingly, imagine that the doctor was wrong because he or she simply didn’t take your symptoms seriously, failed to order the right tests, or got caught up in their own distractions.
Sadly, it happens more often than you might think.
In fact, a 2013 study reported in the peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ Open found that more medical malpractice lawsuits are filed over misdiagnosis (including delayed diagnoses and failure to diagnose) than any other mistake— even exceeding surgical errors and medication mistakes.
That’s frightening because an overlooked warning sign can lead to dangerous delays in treatment for serious conditions, including heart attack, cancer, stroke, drug overdose, and HIV.
So what’s causing so many doctors to drop the ball? And when are they legally liable to their patients for missing crucial symptoms?
In the sections to follow, we explore a health care provider’s duty to diagnose, why misdiagnoses are so prevalent, and patients’ rights in the face of diagnostic negligence.
Missed Diagnosis vs. Misdiagnosis
Not every missed diagnosis qualifies as a “misdiagnosis,” and doctors aren’t automatically liable for medical malpractice just because they didn’t catch symptoms early.
After all, doctors are human beings, prone to error. And while medicine is a science, it isn’t always an exact one.
But medical professionals are also highly trained, vested by law with authority and responsibility, and endowed by their schooling and profession with considerable expertise.
The rest of us rely on their responsibility and expertise because we have no other choice. Doctors must use their best judgment, and sometimes, their best simply isn’t good enough.
A missed diagnosis becomes a misdiagnosis when the doctor fails to exercise reasonable care, caution, and judgment.
In other words, your health care providers have a duty to uphold a high standard of care whenever they examine you, and they should do everything they can — within reason — to ensure they aren’t missing something.
Inaccurate or Delayed Diagnosis: How It Happens
An inaccurate or delayed diagnosis happens when a doctor acts unreasonably or carelessly. Often, the doctors don’t mean to be careless, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are letting their patients down (and potentially subjecting them to serious illness or death).
Common examples include:
- Not listening carefully to patients’ medical complaints
- Downplaying symptoms without medical justification
- Failing to take a careful, comprehensive medical history (e.g. asking the right questions, reading the patient’s chart, inquiring about recent travel, and understanding their past medical conditions)
- Failure to monitor vital signs, weight loss / gain, etc.
- Failure to order proper medical tests (e.g. bloodwork, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, etc.)
- Rushing through a medical exam (often caused by having too many patients)
- Making assumptions about a patient based on age, gender, lifestyle, or stereotypes (for example, assuming that a young person is not having a stroke or that a heterosexual patient is not at risk for HIV)
- Mixing up medical charts / confusing one patient with another
- Prescribing a medication despite dangerous side effects or interactions
- Recommending or performing a procedure without first researching potential contraindications (reasons the treatment might be dangerous)
- Failing to consider the possibility of drug abuse, which can cause many otherwise-unexpected medical complications
- Failing to consider differential diagnoses (alternative conditions that could cause the same or similar symptoms)
Failure to Diagnose
In some cases, doctors don’t realize they reached the wrong diagnosis until it’s too late — after the patient has died or suffered irreversible harm.
Some medical conditions are treatable in their early stages but, if left untreated, become serious health threats. These include heart disease, vascular issues, many types of cancer, syphilis, HIV, and others.
If a health care provider fails to diagnose a serious condition, and such failure is caused by negligence, he or she may be liable for medical malpractice and/or wrongful death.
Serious Medical Conditions Commonly Misdiagnosed
Some of the most commonly missed or misdiagnosed medical conditions include:
- Allergic reactions
- Arterial dissection
- Arterial occlusion
- Atrial fibrillation
- Bacterial meningitis
- Bowel obstruction
- Brain damage
- Cancer / tumors
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), leading to pulmonary embolism (PE)
- Drug overdose (heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.)
- Heart attack / heart disease
- HIV / AIDS
- Internal bleeding
- Kidney failure
- Preeclampsia (and other dangerous conditions related to pregnancy, labor, and delivery)
- Serious infections
- Stroke / brain bleeds
- Syphilis (particularly in its latent, asymptomatic stages)
- Unruptured aneurysm
Doctors might dismiss these conditions as something less serious. Common scapegoats include:
- Common cold
- Idiopathic headaches
- Influenza (the flu)
- Mild rash / fungal infection
- Muscle tension
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Panic attacks
- “Stomach bug” / “stomach flu”
- Virus (e.g. an unidentified virus that is said to be “going around”)
Talk to an Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today
If you or someone you love has suffered because a doctor failed to diagnose a serious health condition, please contact D’Amore Personal Injury Law right away. You might be entitled to substantial financial compensation. Our experienced Maryland medical malpractice lawyers are ready to fight for your rights.
Call 877-712-1784 or contact us online to get started with a free consultation today.