Medicine is a complicated field. There are many medical issues that a person can experience, and sometimes doctors fail to diagnose them in a timely manner. Some doctors even diagnose patients with illnesses they do not have while failing to diagnose them with illnesses they do have. When this happens, patients can end up suffering through undue pain and stress. For some illnesses, early medical intervention is critical to survival, and some patients lose their lives because they are not diagnosed properly. When this happens, doctors can be sued. But how does one prove it?
How Do Delayed or Inaccurate Diagnoses Happen?
The majority of misdiagnoses happen due to mistakes made by doctors. The job is not simple, and doctors are expected to use an expansive amount of education to identify and treat various health problems. Some of the most common reasons for misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose include:
- Failure to take and review the patient’s complete medical history
- Failure to perform assessments and evaluations that a reasonable doctor would consider necessary
- Failure to order tests that would help diagnose a patient
- Reading the results of tests incorrectly
- Failure to recommend a relevant specialist to a patient in need
When a doctor commits any of the acts listed above, they may have committed medical malpractice. A patient can sue when a doctor diagnoses them incorrectly, fails to diagnose them at all, diagnoses them too late, or does not detect complications that can worsen a preexisting condition. However, a patient must prove certain actionable circumstances in order to win their case.
Issues That Are Commonly Missed
Certain medical emergencies are missed more frequently than others. This happens for many reasons, such as issues being difficult to find or issues that present common symptoms. Commonly missed medical issues include:
- Breast, colon, lung, and skin cancer
- Heart attacks in women
- Pregnancy complications, such as babies in the breech position or preeclampsia
- Meningitis in children
What Needs to Be Proven in a Failure to Diagnose Lawsuit
When a doctor fails to diagnose a patient, the patient can sue them for damages if the failure led to preventable harm. Legally, for a doctor to commit medical malpractice, they must have broken the standard of care expected of them. In order to prove that the doctor breached the standard of care owed to the patient, it must be proven that:
- There was an existing doctor-patient relationship. A doctor-patient relationship is entered when a physician agrees to treat a patient. The relationship makes the doctor responsible for using their expertise to treat the patient in the same manner as any other professional would in a similar situation.
- Negligence occurred. Negligence can amount to skipping important tests due to time restraints or misreading an accurate test result, among other intentional acts of neglect. Again, if the doctor failed to act in a way that any other reasonable doctor would have, then you can prove that negligence occurred.
- An injury was caused by negligence. For a doctor’s actions to be considered malpractice, the patient must have been injured or made ill due to the lack of diagnosis, or misdiagnosis. For example, if a patient went to their doctor in the early stages of cancer but, due to lack of standard testing, was not diagnosed until the cancer was irreversible, the doctor could be accused of medical malpractice.
It is worth noting that not all misdiagnoses can be considered malpractice. Sometimes, even the most skilled doctors inaccurately diagnose a patient or miss something they could have caught earlier. What’s important in a medical malpractice lawsuit is determining whether the doctor in question acted competently and in a way that other doctors with similar training would have.
A doctor cannot be held responsible for failing to diagnose a patient correctly because the test results they received were inaccurate. Inaccurate test results can happen in multiple ways:
- The equipment was broken or faulty
- The test was performed incorrectly by laboratory technicians
- Samples were taken incorrectly
If the doctor did not perform the test themselves, they cannot be held responsible; however, someone else might be liable for medical malpractice, such as the laboratory technician or the nurse who drew the patient’s blood.
What Damages Are Available to Victims of Misdiagnosis?
Anyone who experiences a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis due to a doctor’s negligence may be able to sue for compensatory damages. Many people who experience a misdiagnosis end up with more medical bills than they would have otherwise, and some end up with a reduced quality of life. Patients can sue for compensation for those hardships, as well as:
- Lost wages due to time taken away from work because of the injury
- Loss of earning ability due to the injury
- Ongoing medical care, such as home health aides, physical therapy, etc.
- The cost of traveling to appointments and procedures
- The cost of prescriptions related to the injury
Economic damages can be supported in a court of law through concrete examples, such as medical bills. In certain cases, an economic expert may need to testify on behalf of the patient to prove their need for compensation for ongoing issues. In addition to compensatory damages for economic losses related to the injury, patients can sue for noneconomic damages. Some examples of common noneconomic compensation in malpractice lawsuits include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental turmoil
- Loss of quality of life
- Damage to the patient’s reputation
Noneconomic damages usually require more proof than documentation in court. The victim will often be asked to testify regarding how the injury changed their life. Sometimes, the people close to them will be asked to testify as well.
When Does a Patient Need to File a Lawsuit for a Misdiagnosis?
In the state of New York, there is a statute of limitations on lawsuits involving medical malpractice issues. Lawsuits must be started within 2 years and 6 months of the date of the injury. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule. If the patient failed to receive a diagnosis of cancer, they are allowed to act either 2 years and 6 months from the date they should have learned of the missed diagnosis or 2 years and 6 months from the last date of treatment for their cancer, whichever comes later.
Can Patients Help Prevent Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose?
Ultimately, it is up to a doctor to determine when a patient is ill and how to treat their illness. However, patients are encouraged to take an active role in their health and treatment by:
- Asking questions: If a patient is visiting their doctor for an issue that the doctor is not solving, being persistent and asking for additional testing can help a diagnosis take place in a timely manner.
- Getting a second opinion: Sometimes, a doctor is not the right fit for certain patients. It is a good idea to get a second opinion from another healthcare provider regarding persistent health issues, especially if the symptoms are serious.
- Seeing a specialist: Certain issues require specialized care, and that care can come at the recommendation of a doctor. However, if a doctor is acting negligently, a patient may take it upon themselves to see a specialist regarding the issue.
Please note that a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is never a patient’s fault; these are simply tips for how a patient may consider proceeding if they feel their doctor is not meeting their needs.