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Doctors misdiagnose 20 percent of fatal illnesses. Patients, in these scenarios, are left with an exacerbating condition – one that may eventually require more severe treatment, if it’s caught at all. Or, the patient, given a more serious diagnosis, has to go through a series of procedures that result in accumulating medical bills, missed time from work, and a high level of stress and anxiety.

Breast cancer patients, particularly, have a high level of misdiagnosis: It has been estimated that up to 80,000 hospital deaths per year stem from doctors and other medical professionals claiming a cancerous lump is benign.

However, no matter the condition, misdiagnosis frequently falls under the medical malpractice umbrella. If a doctor underestimated the severity of your condition or incorrectly diagnosed your symptoms, and the decision had a negative impact on your health, you may have a case.

Proving Medical Malpractice

With misdiagnosis, a fine line separates a mistake and malpractice. For one, doctors are not legally responsible for diagnostic errors, and two, a simple mistake is not sufficient for filing a lawsuit. Three, the error must have resulted in an illness, fatality, or other negative ramifications.

Instead, lawyers examine two factors when taking on your case. The first is determining if the doctor acted competently. What this means is, the patient and lawyer must prove that, if another doctor used the same evaluation process, he or she would have come to the correct conclusion, rather than misdiagnosing the condition.

In this process, doctors put together a list of potential diagnoses and then rule them out by making medical observations, asking the patient questions about symptoms and history, requesting tests, and referring a patient to a specialist.

In this process, misdiagnosis may occur through the following scenarios:

  • The doctor didn’t include the correct diagnosis in his initial list;
  • He included it but did not perform tests or investigate it;
  • He could have received inaccurate test results, stemming from faulty equipment, mixed up or contaminated samples, or technicians using incorrect procedures.

Along these lines, misdiagnosis affects the patient in one or more of the following ways:

  • A more severe treatment is required, because the doctor and medical staff incorrectly identified the condition in its early stages;
  • The patient dies because a life-saving treatment is not performed or is not performed soon enough;
  • As the result of an incorrect diagnosis, the patient goes through one or more unnecessary medical treatments – for instance, chemotherapy and radiation for an assumed cancer diagnosis – and sees expenses accrue as a result.
  • Patients given an incorrect diagnosis may additionally go through high levels of stress and anxiety in response.

Along with these two factors, misdiagnosis claims must follow the three conditions of all medical malpractice lawsuits:

  1. Does a doctor-patient relationship exist?
  2. The doctor was negligent.
  3. The negligence directly resulted in the patient’s injury.

Types of Misdiagnoses

Wrong Diagnosis: The doctor claims the patient has an illness or condition that he or she doesn’t have.

Missed Diagnosis: The doctor gives the patient a clean bill of health, while the patient is still ill or has a disease.

Failure to Diagnose a Related Disease: In this scenario, the doctor correctly diagnoses a primary disease but misses one that’s related or has a higher rate of incidence.

Failure to Diagnose an Unrelated Disease: Here, the doctor also identifies the primary disease but doesn’t diagnose an unrelated secondary disease.

Medical misdiagnosis becomes more common in emergency room settings, especially if the condition is less common. However, certain conditions and illnesses have higher rates of misdiagnosis than others:

  • Asthma – May be incorrectly diagnosed as recurring bronchitis.
  • Heart attacks – A patient may be told he or she has indigestion or had a panic attack instead.
  • Lymph node inflammation – The condition may, instead, be appendicitis.
  • Staph Infection – Doctors may misdiagnose it as the common ‘flu.
  • Stroke – Especially if the patient is young, doctors may misdiagnose the condition as a migraine or something less severe.
  • Cancer
  • Aortic dissection
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Infection
  • Pneumonia

Filing a Lawsuit

Patients suffering as a result of misdiagnosis may choose to file a lawsuit against a doctor. The lawsuit, in turn, may assist with recovering pain and suffering, medical bills, diminished quality of life, or loss of enjoyment.