Is a Missed Diagnosis Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice can take many different forms, each of which can cause unimaginable pain and loss. Some types of medical malpractice get more attention than others, and we’ve all heard stories about physicians operating on the wrong patient or leaving surgical instruments inside patients’ bodies, but one of the most common instances of medical malpractice are those involving physicians who have either made an incorrect diagnosis or have missed a diagnosis entirely, leading to further illness and even death.

When a patient visits their physician, they do so with the expectation that they will go through a careful process that will determine what is wrong with them and what the proper course of treatment should be. Physicians use a technique known as differential diagnosis to narrow down the possible causes of a patient’s symptoms. When they do not follow this process or misinterpret the results that they see, it may represent medical malpractice, which is generally defined as a failure to provide the accepted standard of care. The most common diagnoses that are missed by physicians are:

  • Cancer – Cancer is a disease that needs to be diagnosed quickly and accurately in order to allow treatment to be administered and prevent the disease from spreading. Missing the presence of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer are common, and can lead to death or a much more difficult course of treatment.
  • Heart Attack or Heart Failure – People who are experiencing a heart attack usually go to hospital emergency rooms or to their physicians with symptoms including chest pain, numbness in their arms, or difficulty breathing. If medical professionals evaluate these symptoms as flu, panic attack or some other lesser malady, there is significant risk of death.
  • Stroke – Strokes can present with a variety of different symptoms. Some patients are unable to speak, while others may seem confused or exhibit weakness or a lack of coordination. While some symptoms manifest very quickly and acutely, other types show symptoms over an extended period of time.
  • Pulmonary Embolism – A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels to the lungs through the bloodstream. Its symptoms are extremely similar to several benign conditions, including a chest cold, an asthma attack, bronchitis, and other respiratory infections. Failure to diagnose a pulmonary embolism in a timely fashion can result in death.

Proving that a physician or medical professional has been negligent requires more than just proving that a diagnosis was missed – physicians are allowed to make mistakes and are not expected to be perfect. However, if a physician was negligent, and did not provide treatment in a way that adheres to the generally accepted standard of care that another physician would reasonably have provided, then they can be held legally responsible for any injury or damage that their negligence caused. If you believe that you or someone you love has been injured as a result of a missed diagnosis and you’d like to know whether the error rises to the level of medical malpractice, we can help. Contact our office today to set up an appointment and learn more about your rights.