When Is Misdiagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?

The proper diagnosis of an illness or disease allows patients to undergo the proper treatment, so they can recover from the illness. Unfortunately, misdiagnoses occur at a frightening rate, with an estimated 10 to 20 percent of all cases being misdiagnosed, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis.

A misdiagnosis jeopardizes the patient’s health and life. In fact, diagnostic errors in intensive care units in the United States lead to 40,500 deaths a year.

However, not every misdiagnosis is malpractice. To be malpractice, the medical practitioner must act with negligence.

Proving negligence is a difficult process. A New Haven medical malpractice lawyer understands how the system works and knows the best steps to take when moving forward with the case.

That includes an understanding of the type of misdiagnoses.


Types of Misdiagnoses

Negligence is the cornerstone of proving a medical malpractice case. Diagnostic errors make up most malpractice claim payouts, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. These can be divided into several categories.

First, there are missed diagnoses. The doctor examines the patient and believes he or she is healthy. In reality, the patient has an illness, but due to the missed diagnosis, the patient does not receive treatment.

Next, there are incorrect diagnoses. The doctor diagnoses the patient with the wrong condition. Then, the doctor begins treatment for the diagnosed condition, even though the patient does not have it. At the same time, the patient suffers from a real illness but does not receive treatment for it.

The delayed diagnosis also falls under the category of “diagnostic errors.” In this case, the doctor eventually comes up with the correct diagnosis, but a significant amount of time has passed between the diagnosis and the initial appointment. The delayed treatment allows the disease to worsen. It can also lead to other problems, such as cancer metastasizing.

Itzhak Brook provides an excellent example of this. He went to the doctor for throat pain and received a diagnosis of acid reflux. In reality, he had a tumor in his throat. The tumor had several months to grow, and he had to have his voice box removed as part of the treatment.

Doctors may also fail to diagnose a related disease. Doctors understand that some diseases commonly accompany others, and they are trained to look for those related diseases. Those who fail to do so might be liable in the court of law.

Failing to diagnose an unrelated disease can also lead to malpractice. Patients expect a full diagnosis of all diseases they suffer from.

The final type of misdiagnosis isn’t part of the “diagnostic errors” category. Instead, it is the failure to address complications. These complications make the disease worse and jeopardize the patient’s health.


Conditions Commonly Misdiagnosed

While any condition can be misdiagnosed, some are more likely to be misdiagnosed than others. These include:

  • Cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Lupus
  • Depression
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Endometriosis
  • Migraines
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Celiac Disease
  • Appendicitis


Proving Medical Malpractice

An error doesn’t mean a doctor has committed malpractice. Errors occur from time to time without neglect. There are four components involved in successful medical malpractice cases.

First, a doctor-patient relationship must exist. Doctors cannot commit malpractice if the person is not his or her patient. However, if a doctor-patient relationship exists, the doctor owes the patient a duty of care.

Second, the physician must be negligent when diagnosing the patient. Negligence occurs when a reasonable doctor would have provided a different diagnosis and treatment. This means what a reasonable, similarly trained doctor would have done in the same situation.

Next, the patient must prove the diagnosis was harmful. The negligence must be directly related to the harm. This is a civil and not a criminal case, so the burden of proof is not as great as it would be if the doctor faced criminal charges. However, patients must illustrate a strong link between the diagnosis and an undesirable outcome.

Finally, the patient must outline specific damages. Damages come in three categories. There are economic damages. These damages are quantified, and they usually entail medical expenses and therapy costs.

Non-economic damages include emotional pain and physical trauma. These are true damages, but they do not have a price tag.

Punitive damages are not as common. These damages are included when a physician exhibits reckless behavior. The damages are included to punish the physician.


Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Patients should never try to file a medical malpractice lawsuit on their own. A simple mistake in the filing can mean the difference between a successful outcome and a dismissal.

Medical malpractice attorneys spend years honing their craft, and they understand the laws that govern the state of Connecticut. Those who are interested in moving forward with a case should begin by contacting an attorney. The attorney will gather the evidence and move forward with the claim, as long as it is clear, persuasive and viable.

If you want to find out if you have a claim against a physician, contact a medical malpractice attorney today.