Patients put a great deal of trust in medical professionals to use their training and in depth knowledge to accurately diagnose medical conditions and recommend proper treatment. Unfortunately, mistakes do happen. Misdiagnosis errors are among the most common examples of medical malpractice. When an incorrect, missed, or delayed diagnosis leads to a patient suffering a serious or fatal injury, both the employees and hospital may be held liable. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help recover compensation for the financial and emotional impact of an injury caused by a diagnostic error.
What is Misdiagnosis?
Misdiagnosis is when a doctor or other medical professional fails to properly diagnose a patient’s illness, injury, symptoms, or condition. As a result, a patient may receive the wrong treatment, ineffective treatment, or no treatment at all. Without appropriate medical care, a patient can suffer from deteriorating health, delayed recovery, side effects from taking the wrong medication, physical and neurological injuries, or even death.
The most common misdiagnosed conditions are:
- Brain Tumors
- Ectopic Pregnancy
- Heart Attack
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Brain Injuries
- Lyme Disease
- Lymph Node Inflammation
- Pulmonary Embolism
- Staph Infection
Not surprisingly, a high number of misdiagnosis cases happen in emergency rooms due to the increased time pressure to investigate differential diagnoses (comparing two or more conditions with similar symptoms). Conditions that are uncommon in certain patient populations are also less likely to be properly diagnosed in an emergency room.
For example, heart attack symptoms are different in men and women. Instead of the usual indicators of chest or arm pain, women are more likely to experience symptoms of abdominal pain, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and sweating. Based on these symptoms, a physician in the emergency department may misdiagnose a heart attack as simple indigestion without ordering an electrocardiogram or blood tests. If the female patient is sent home from the emergency room and later suffers a heart attack, the doctor that discharged her could be held liable for failing to make the right diagnosis.
Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis rarely occur due to a “simple mistake”. These errors are often caused by a medical practitioner failing to assess a patient’s symptoms and medical history, perform the recommended tests, and determine the proper treatment. When a physician fails to accurately diagnose a patient’s medical condition, they have failed to reach the expected medical standard of care.
Who is Liable for Misdiagnosis?
Liability for misdiagnosis can be placed on a single practitioner, a group of providers, or a healthcare facility. In most cases, only the primary physician (your doctor) can be sued for the action or inaction that led to a misdiagnosis. In certain situations, multiple providers can be held liable, including doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and physical therapists. Although an individual or group of practitioners may have made the initial error, the hospital can also be held responsible for medical malpractice on behalf of its employees for harming a patient.
Although mistakes do happen, patients can sustain serious injuries when a doctor or other healthcare professionals deviate from the accepted standard of care. The following types of medical malpractice and negligence can increase the likelihood of misdiagnosis:
- Misinterpreting test results
- Incomplete or rushed exams
- Failure to report accurate results
- Failure to hire qualified staff
- Failure to monitor vital signs
- Failure to order basic blood tests or imaging
- Failure to refer a patient to a specialist
- Failure to provide staff members with proper training
- Emergency room errors
- Failure to obtain a patient’s medical history
- Failure to follow up on tests
- Discharging patients too quickly
- Equipment errors
Many of these medical errors point to systemic issues within a particular healthcare facility that otherwise could be avoided with proper procedures in place. Unfortunately, these issues can result in misdiagnosis, causing harm to multiple patients.
Types of Medical Misdiagnosis
Not every health issue can be diagnosed with a lab test or a couple of visits to the doctor. There are processes doctors must follow when diagnosing a medical condition. Knowing if your doctor acted competently involves evaluating what the doctor did or did not do before arriving at a diagnosis.
Considering healthcare professionals are human like the rest of us, not every misdiagnosis will qualify as a medical malpractice claim. The diagnostic error must result in improper medical care causing harm to the patient. A misdiagnosis lawyer can help you understand if the actions of your healthcare provider meet the requirements for a successful medical malpractice case.
Missed Diagnosis: When a doctor gives the patient a “clean bill of health” but misses the signs and symptoms of an illness or disease.
Incorrect Diagnosis: The doctor misidentifies a medical condition. For example, misdiagnosing a heart attack as a gastrointestinal issue.
Delayed Diagnosis: A condition is not correctly diagnosed by a doctor in a timely manner. This often occurs in cancer misdiagnosis.
Failure to Diagnose: When a doctor fails to offer an assessment of your condition. For example, minimizing reported pain symptoms caused by kidney stones that go undiagnosed due to lack of proper medical testing.
Missed Medical Complications: The doctor makes the correct diagnosis but fails to identify complications or factors which change or aggravate the condition.
Can You Sue for Misdiagnosis?
You can file a medical malpractice claim against your primary physician for misdiagnosis. However, it is essential to know that the law does not hold doctors legally responsible for all diagnostic errors. Just because a doctor makes a mistake doesn’t always mean medical negligence has occurred, at least from a legal standpoint.
Often, doctors use a trial-and-error approach when diagnosing a patient, which could eventually lead to a misdiagnosis. To support medical malpractice claims for misdiagnosis, you must prove that your doctor did not act as another reasonable doctor would have in similar circumstances.
Breach of Duty
Doctors owe their patients a duty of care and must adhere to standards in the medical practice. In a misdiagnosis case, if the doctor did not order or interpret diagnostic tests and scans correctly or use the available resources, they have failed to uphold their standard of care for the situation.
Breach of duty alone does not necessarily warrant a medical malpractice case. The violation or negligence must directly cause the patient’s injury. This means that the harm suffered would not have occurred without the doctor’s negligent behaviour.
The injuries sustained from a misdiagnosis must result in compensatory damages. This is the legal term for monetary compensation that pays for your physical, emotional, and financial injuries. Types of damages may include:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of future earnings
It’s important to know the amount of time you have to file medical malpractice claims (also known as the limitation period). This time limit will vary depending on the province in which your claim is filed. In Nova Scotia, the statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims is two years, which means you have two years from the date of the misdiagnosis to sue for medical malpractice. There are few exceptions to the deadline, but typically you must act within the specified period or you can no longer pursue legal action against the defendant doctor for a misdiagnosis claim.
What Should I Do After a Misdiagnosis?
If you believe that you may have been misdiagnosed, pay close attention to how you’re feeling. The first thing you should do is go back and speak with your doctor to advocate for yourself. If you still do not feel comfortable with the first diagnosis, you have every right to seek out a second opinion. This will not insult your doctor, and it is pretty common to speak to another physician for confirmation. It is also essential to keep copies of all your medical records to show any diagnostic errors.
The types of documents to keep are:
- New conditions, diagnoses, congenital conditions
- Dates of injuries and medical treatment
- Dates of diagnoses, surgeries, change of treatment
- Any hospitalizations
- Medications (current and past)
- Names and contact information for all healthcare providers
- Family genetic history
- Mental health treatment
If you decide that you want to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit for the harm caused by your misdiagnosis, speak with a skilled medical malpractice lawyer. A reputable personal injury law firm will provide a free consultation to discuss the circumstances of your misdiagnosis.
How Do I Prevent a Misdiagnosis?
It’s always important to clearly communicate with your physician and keep copies of all your medical records. While there is no proven methods of prevention, there are ways to help reduce the chances of an incorrect diagnosis:
- Ask Questions – If you are not feeling better after your diagnosis, ask questions. Even the questions you think are small or unimportant can help your doctor understand your situation.
- Get a Second Opinion – A second diagnosis of the same health issue can make you feel more secure about your medical condition. An alternate diagnosis can also help you understand if your medical condition is not resolved.
- Document Everything – Writing down terms, notes, or anything you do not understand will help establish a diagnosis timeline.
If you are someone you know has suffered an injury due to a medical error, don’t wait. Book a free consultation with Valent Legal to speak with a misdiagnosis lawyer in Halifax, Nova Scotia today. Our legal team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers will review your case and advise you on your legal options to get you the fair compensation you deserve. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay legal fees unless we win your medical malpractice case.