Doctors make mistakes, and one common situation involves making a wrong diagnosis. A patient might show up at the emergency room with signs of measles, but the doctor doesn’t correctly identify the disease either because of carelessness, inexperience, or lack of skill.
Sometimes a diagnosis is correct but is delayed for various reasons. Any delay can be just as dangerous as a mistaken diagnosis, causing patients to be sicker longer than necessary. In some situations, any delay can be fatal.
At Powers & Santola, we help patients who have suffered as a result of diagnostic errors. However, not every wrong diagnosis warrants a lawsuit. Below, our attorneys analyze what factors go into determining whether a misdiagnosis is considered medical malpractice.
Would a Competent Doctor Have Made a Correct Diagnosis?
Sometimes illnesses present with unusual symptoms, so it might be the case that no (or few) doctors would have correctly made the diagnosis. Also, patients might keep certain symptoms to themselves or not tell the doctor the whole story. Since doctors cannot read a patient’s mind, a doctor cannot be held responsible for failing to properly diagnose a condition when he or she does not have all relevant facts.
To qualify as malpractice, the doctor or other medical professional must deviate from what a reasonably competent doctor would have done in a similar situation. In other words, the doctor must have been negligent: not simply wrong—but lacking in the care and skill we have come to expect from doctors.
For this reason, it is vital to understand what information the doctor had before him during the initial misdiagnosis. If the doctor had all relevant facts—and if a competent doctor would have correctly made a diagnosis—then the doctor could have committed medical malpractice.
Did the Patient Suffer Injury?
Lawsuits exist to compensate injured victims for their losses. For example, a misdiagnosis could have resulted in more costly medical treatment, pain and suffering, or even death. A lawsuit is the proper vehicle for obtaining compensation for the victims and their families.
Not every misdiagnosis causes injury, however. For example, a patient might get better on her own even without receiving adequate treatment. Or the patient quickly gets a second opinion that properly diagnosis the condition, in which case she receives timely treatment and makes a recovery.
If a patient does not suffer injury of some sort, then there is no medical malpractice case. Sometimes, the injury suffered might not be obvious to a person, so meet with an attorney to review your case.
Did the Misdiagnosis Cause the Injury?
Some patients might become deathly sick or even die, but that does not mean that the misdiagnosis is to blame. For example, a patient might have had cancer, which a doctor did not correctly identify even after ordering the proper tests. If the patient then dies of an entirely unrelated medical condition, the law would not hold the doctor responsible because the misdiagnosis did not cause death.
To qualify as malpractice, the wrong or delayed diagnosis must have been the cause of the injury suffered by the patient. Causation can sometimes be simple or sometimes very complicated. A simple example might be a woman with very high blood pressure who is in labor. There are steps a doctor can take to treat this condition, but a misdiagnosis could delay treatment, resulting in seizure or death.
In other cases, causation might be difficult, especially when there is no known treatment available. The experienced medical malpractice attorney can help determine if causation is so difficult there is no legitimate claim. If there is a case, an expert witness can provide testimony about causation and other key issues in a medical malpractice case.
Can Someone Other than a Doctor Be Responsible?
Possibly. A doctor’s diagnosis is only as good as the evidence he or she has. For example, if lab tests were performed wrong, or if the lab supplied the doctor with the wrong information, then the lab could be legally responsible for the misdiagnosis.
How Does a Patient Know when a Misdiagnosis is Medical Malpractice?
Most patients will not know if a misdiagnosis is malpractice. For this reason, it is important to meet with a seasoned malpractice attorney to review the facts. Too many people suffer substandard care in silence, and this includes injuries sustained as a result of a missed or delayed diagnosis.
If you believe a doctor has been negligent, please contact Powers & Santola, LLP today. Our lawyers have helped many injured patients hold doctors and other medical professionals responsible for misdiagnosis. To begin your case, please contact us to schedule a free consultation.
New York law gives victims and their families a short window to protect their rights, so please do not delay.