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Can Doctors Be Held Liable for Failure to Diagnose or Misdiagnosis?

Posted on behalf of Peter T. Nicholl in Medical Malpractice Nov 11, 2022

nurse taking notesOne of the most important things a doctor does for his or her patients is to diagnose their injuries or medical conditions. Once a condition is diagnosed, treatment can begin and hopefully the patient can begin to recover or at least be on the path to recovery.

Unfortunately, diagnosing some health problems can be a challenging task. Many conditions cause similar symptoms, so a patient could have one of several diagnoses.

There are also times when doctors fail to diagnose a patient, leading the patient to believe he or she has a clean bill of health. The doctor’s failure could allow the patient’s symptoms to get much worse. Sometimes the failure to diagnose a patient puts the patient’s life at risk because treatment options are limited.

If your doctor was negligent when diagnosing your condition, you may be able to file a medical malpractice claim to recover compensation for the damages you suffered. This includes the cost of medical treatment, lost wages and psychological trauma you experienced because of your deteriorating health.

These cases are complex, so you need an experienced Maryland medical malpractice lawyer to help prove malpractice occurred. Peter T. Nicholl Law Offices has secured millions on behalf of medical malpractice victims, and we represent victims at no upfront cost.

Defining Failure to Diagnose a Medical Condition

Failing to diagnose a medical condition refers to a failure to identify a patient’s medical problems. Sometimes doctors do not take appropriate steps to determine what is wrong, and sometimes they take the right approach but do not reach the right conclusion. Doctors fail to connect a patient’s symptoms to the underlying medical issue.

It is true that diagnosing some medical issues can be challenging. However, if another doctor with similar training would have correctly diagnosed the patient, the first doctor’s conduct may rise to the level of medical malpractice.

Conditions Doctors Often Misdiagnose or Fail to Diagnose

There are some health issues that doctors often fail to diagnose or misdiagnose, such as:

  • Cancer – Misdiagnosis of cancer can have life-threatening consequences. The prognosis for cancer is much better if doctors catch it early because they will have more treatment options. For example, doctors may be able to surgically remove a tumor to prevent it from spreading. Breast cancer is often misdiagnosed because of overreliance on negative test results. Doctors may say a patient is fine even if she felt a lump or complained about symptoms.
  • Heart attack – Sometimes patients have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain. This can cause doctors to misdiagnose a heart attack as something minor. For instance, sometimes victims experience pain in the abdomen and not the middle of their chest. This can cause doctors to think a patient is suffering from indigestion or heartburn. That is why doctors need to look for other symptoms of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, pain in the left arm, fatigue, light-headedness or cold sweats.
  • Stroke ­– There are many symptoms to look for, such as paralysis of the face or an arm or leg. Stroke victims may slur their words, have headaches, struggle with balance and lose coordination.
  • Blood clots – One of the problems with blood clots is the symptoms are similar to symptoms of a stroke, heart attack or pneumonia. Blood clot symptoms include swelling, discolored skin, cramping, and soreness in the leg. If a blood clot is not caught, it could move into the heart or lungs and be fatal.

What You Must Prove in a Failure to Diagnose Case

Failure to diagnose cases, or misdiagnosis cases, are complicated. The central issue is whether the doctor should have given you the correct diagnosis. However, it can be a challenge to prove the doctor was negligent during the diagnostic process.

The Diagnostic Process

Your attorney will need to evaluate the steps the doctor took when diagnosing your medical condition. For example, doctors often come up with a list of conditions a patient might have. As they investigate the patient’s symptoms, they narrow down the list of conditions until they reach a conclusion.

It is possible your doctor did not ask enough questions or failed to ask the right questions. The doctor may not have requested the appropriate tests. Sometimes doctors do not interpret test results appropriately.

Technical Errors

There are also situations when technical errors with medical testing cause a misdiagnosis. In these situations, the lab or others involved in the testing process may be liable. It might not be the doctor’s fault your condition was misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.

Confirmation Bias and Anchoring Bias

Sometimes a doctor’s decisions may have been influenced by confirmation bias. In other words, the doctor saw what he or she wanted to see. There is also something called anchoring bias, which happens when a doctor favors the initial information, he or she gets over newer information.

The other vital aspect of a failure to diagnose case is proving the doctor’s malpractice caused an injury or worsening of your medical condition. Your lawyer would need to show that your medical issues got worse after the doctor diagnosed you or failed to diagnose you.  

For example, you may have had to undergo more invasive treatment because your condition was not diagnosed until it had progressed. You may have endured more pain and more widespread symptoms because you were not diagnosed when you should have been diagnosed.

In some cases, victims did not survive after a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a medical condition. They may be left with a permanent disability, such as paralysis, because a stroke was not diagnosed when it should have been. 

Challenges in a Failure to Diagnose Case

A doctor named in a medical malpractice lawsuit may claim he or she could not have been expected to make the right diagnosis. The patient had symptoms that are associated with many medical conditions.

That is why your attorney will need a medical expert to analyze the situation. He or she will know how to determine the proper steps the doctor should have taken and where malpractice may have occurred. An expert can also get into detail about how your condition would likely have improved with a proper diagnosis. The expert can explain why your condition worsened after the doctor’s malpractice.

The doctor may argue that the treatments that should have been provided might not have been effective. They may say these treatments are experimental or that they do not always work.

This is another reason you need a medical expert to help your lawyer build a strong case. An expert can explain why some treatments are often recommended for a certain diagnosis. The question is not how well will a treatment work, but whether that treatment is what would have been recommended by a doctor in a similar situation.

Were You Misdiagnosed? Call Today

Our experienced attorneys know how dangerous medical malpractice can be. We have been working with medical malpractice victims for decades, helping them recover compensation for the physical, financial and emotional toll of their doctor’s actions.

Schedule a free legal consultation today to learn more about how we may be able to assist you.

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Contact our personal injury lawyers for a free consultation if you have been injured by another’s negligence. You may be entitled to compensation.

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