When diagnosing patients, medical professionals use a variety of tools. Depending on the type and location of the injury, diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, MRIs, and CTs scans, may be necessary. Physicians will report the patient’s account of symptoms: what they experience, when they appeared, whether they’ve increased (or changed) in type and severity. In forming their diagnosis, physicians may examine a patient’s past medical records or consult with colleagues or specialists.
But what if, despite years of training, the patient isn’t diagnosed properly? Misdiagnosis can cause patients further injury and harm, worsen their symptoms, produce new symptoms, and in severe cases, even lead to death.
A cough misdiagnosed as a symptom of the common flu, when it is in fact a symptom of COVID-19, may ultimately lead to a patient requiring a ventilator. A patient may receive a clean bill of health after an annual mammogram, only to find that indications of cancer were missed. Unfortunately, at the patient’s next mammogram, they may discover that the cancer was present, and growing, for over a year.
Misdiagnosis is a category of medical malpractice. Unfortunately, in most U.S. states, misdiagnoses constitute the most common basis for medical malpractice lawsuits.
Incidents of medical malpractice are frightening. Patients have a reasonable expectation of trusting medical professionals’ judgment when they seek an examination. Because we trust medical professional’s opinions, patients may reasonably believe worsening symptoms are caused by the condition itself. Patients may not be quick to question whether their physician properly diagnosed their condition.
Misdiagnosis, like all medical malpractice, violates a patient’s reasonable expectation that they can trust their physician’s opinion. Unfortunately, misdiagnoses can instill fear and panic in patients, and negatively affect their health and wellbeing.
What should you do if you suspect misdiagnosis?
Patients who suspect misdiagnosis should seek a second opinion from another doctor as soon as possible. You don’t need to vocalize your suspicions, but can simply describe your symptoms to a second physician. Obviously, the highest priority is to receive the proper treatment to alleviate or cure the ailment. Seeking a second professional opinion may provide a more accurate diagnosis, and as a result, more appropriate treatment.
But how do patients suspect misdiagnosis? After all, they aren’t medical experts, so how would they know?
The best evidence of a misdiagnosis is your own body. If the recommended treatment plan is not working or the symptoms are worsening, individuals may suspect their diagnosis is incorrect. Perhaps your doctor prescribed medication, but even after completing the prescription, your symptoms have not gotten better. Perhaps your doctor advised surgery or another treatment, but your symptoms remain the same after completing treatment.
If you seek a second opinion and the diagnosis is different, and the recommended treatment works this time, you may have suffered misdiagnosis.
Sometimes, the actions and responses of other healthcare professionals may indicate they are uneasy or suspect something is wrong. If your physician seems uncertain, it’s always a good idea to seek a second opinion.
Sometimes, you may discover or suspect that you were misdiagnosed at a later point in time. For example, a doctor may discover a cancerous lump after you were told a mammogram showed no signs of abnormality.
Always take note of feelings of suspicion and the reasons you were led to feel that way. If you suspect misdiagnosis, it’s prudent to consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
How does misdiagnosis happen?
The overwhelming majority of people who enter the medical field want to treat their patients well, with correct and safe diagnoses. Misdiagnosis is seldom intentional.
Healthcare professionals are human. Misdiagnosis can result from mistakes, such as observing symptoms and making incorrect conclusions about the underlying condition. It can result from choosing the wrong interventions to treat a condition. A physician may misdiagnose because they failed to create a thorough medical history for a patient or didn’t feel that further diagnostic testing was necessary.
Misdiagnosis can stem from misreading patients’ charts, incorrectly reading diagnostic tests—and even from mix-ups of charts and test results. In some cases, one patient’s results may be switched with another making proper diagnosis nearly impossible. Misdiagnosis can result from a physician failing to seriously consider a patient’s account of their symptoms. Doctors may be tired, overworked, or experiencing symptoms of an unknown illness themselves.
However it happens, misdiagnosis is a physician’s failure to treat their patients with the appropriate standard of care. Washington state defines the standard of care as:
“[T]hat degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care provider at that time in the profession or class to which he or she belongs, in the state of Washington, acting in the same or similar circumstances.”
What types of medical professionals misdiagnose?
Several types of medical professionals can misdiagnose. Physicians bear primary responsibility for diagnosis in all healthcare systems, clinics, and hospitals. Other healthcare professionals, such as nurses, pharmacists, and aides, typically follow the physician’s diagnosis and recommended treatment plan.
However, other healthcare professionals can also bear responsibility for a misdiagnosis. Laboratory technicians, for example, can misread or miscommunicate laboratory results. Radiologists can misread X-rays and other diagnostic tests. Pharmacists can misread or dispense incorrect prescriptions. Nurses and aides can misread instructions and describe conditions incorrectly.
Finally, hospitals and healthcare systems may bear responsibility if charts and records that contributed to a misdiagnosis were mixed up, misfiled, rendered unreadable, or incorrectly communicated.
How can a medical malpractice lawyer help me if I’m misdiagnosed?
If you suffered from a misdiagnosis, your health and general well-being may have suffered. Retaining a lawyer may benefit you in several ways.
Seeking compensation. Misdiagnosed patients who suffered harm may be entitled to seek compensation for the resulting damages by filing a medical malpractice claim. Injured victims may be entitled to compensation for:
- Medical bills – Medical expenses including emergency treatment, surgery, hospitalization, doctor’s appointments, urgent care, prescription medication, rehabilitative therapy, diagnostic tests, assistive devices, and more.
- Wages lost from work – If the condition causes the patient to miss time from work, they can recover lost wages.
- Lifetime wages – If the misdiagnosis renders the patient unable to return to work at all, they may be entitled to lifetime wages.
- Pain and suffering – Injured victims may be compensated for the physical, emotional, and mental pain they have endured.
Gather evidence. The outcome of any lawsuit or legal claim depends on the evidence presented by the parties. Lawyers work with investigators and skilled personnel with experience in gathering evidence in cases of medical malpractice and misdiagnosis.
Offer expertise in the steps required of malpractice cases. Medical malpractice suits can be extremely complicated. Washington, like many states, has laws intended to shield physicians from false accusations and to keep malpractice damages minimal.
Malpractice lawsuits require more steps and certifications than other types of personal injury suit, including:
- A Certificate of Merit – Signed by a qualified expert. A certificate must accompany any claim arguing that the standard of care was violated, effectively, acting as a representation that the patient did not receive adequate care.
- Mandatory mediation – Both parties must complete mediation, which is a process of non-binding alternative dispute resolution.
- A Certification of Reasonable Inquiry by the attorney – The attorney must state that they conducted a reasonable inquiry into the case before filing a lawsuit.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer knows these steps and can fulfill them to the patient’s advantage.
For more information, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today.
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Seattle, WA 98121