Does Misdiagnosis Mean Malpractice? It Depends…

A doctor may be held liable for misdiagnosis if he or she deviates from accepted medical practices that, under similar circumstances, another doctor would follow.

If a physician fails to diagnose a medical condition, injury, or illness, you may not receive the proper treatment you need. In some cases, this treatment could mean the difference between life and death. For example, if your doctor fails to diagnose cancer, it may be too late for you to undergo life-saving treatment by the time you receive an accurate diagnosis. Likewise, if a doctor waits too long to diagnose your condition, there can be potentially fatal consequences. If a doctor misdiagnoses you and then treats you for a condition you do not have, the results can also be devasting. A doctor may also be held liable if he or she arrives at the correct diagnosis after an unreasonable delay.

How Doctors Diagnose Illness or Injury

When you see your doctor with a specific medical complaint or symptom, your doctor should follow a “differential diagnosis.” This is a systematic approach that physicians use to narrow a list of potential medical conditions to reach the correct diagnosis. Ideally, your doctor will collect as much information as possible to reach the correct diagnosis, such as:

  • Asking detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history
  • Ordering medical tests
  • Referring you to a specialist

It is important to understand that many physical or mental conditions may share similar symptoms. Since even the most diligent physicians can make mistakes in reaching a diagnosis, legal action is reserved for doctors who knowingly or carelessly abandon their duty to deliver healthcare using accepted medical practices.

How a Misdiagnosis May Occur

Failure to diagnose an illness correctly may have distressing physical, emotional, and financial effects. A misdiagnosis is even more heartbreaking because it is often preventable. Here are some examples of how a misdiagnosis might happen.

Failing to Recognize Symptoms

Injuries, illnesses, and other medical conditions all have signs and symptoms that can reveal their identity to a doctor. For example, a patient has a red, itchy rash or blisters, fever, headache, and overall discomfort. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are all known symptoms of chickenpox.

A doctor may be able to diagnose chickenpox based on these symptoms alone, or he or she can order lab tests to confirm the diagnosis. Chickenpox is readily treated and rarely fatal, so misdiagnosis is disturbing but not life-threatening. Failing to recognize the known symptoms of heart disease or a type of cancer obviously has more significant and extensive consequences for both the patient and his or her family.

Failing to Listen to Patients or Examining Medical History

One of the most important aspects of diagnosis is listening to a patient and understanding a patient’s medical history. Doctors should also take the patient’s medical and family history into account. For example, you may have an increased risk for some types of cancer if your parent or sibling had the disease. A doctor should keep this information in mind for both preventative care and treatment.

Failing to Order Medical Tests

A doctor who does not order medical tests, orders the wrong tests or misreads test results may be held liable for misdiagnosis. Doctors are expected to uphold a standard of care that includes ordering standard medical tests for certain symptoms. Radiologists, pathologists, and other diagnostic medical professionals can be found negligent for wrongly interpreting test results.

If you or a loved one was seriously harmed by a doctor’s negligence in Florida, Miller Trial Law can assist you. Please call us today at (305) 697-8312 for a free, no-risk consultation. We look forward to serving you!