How a Negligent Diagnosis Can Affect a Patient


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When a doctor makes a negligent diagnosis, the consequences for the patient can be devastating.

When we seek medical advice for a problem, we expect the medical professional to find the cause of our condition and treat it appropriately. If we are diagnosed negligently, not only is our original illness left untreated, potentially to rapidly get worse, but we may develop serious side effects from the incorrect treatment and medications we do receive.

According to a Johns Hopkins
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Study, diagnostic errors cause disability or death nearly twice as often as other types of medical errors, including treatment mistakes. The researchers estimate that every year 80,000 to 160,000 Americans suffer significant permanent injury or death because of medical diagnostic errors.

What are Causes of Negligent Diagnosis?

There are times, such as when a patient is suffering from a rare disease or the symptoms presented are unexpected, that it is very difficult for the medical professional to make a correct diagnosis. However, wrong diagnosis often occurs due to physician error or negligence.

Common causes include:

• Media influence and bias toward a certain diagnosis. Doctors who work constantly with specific conditions can tend to find it in many patients, or they may be influenced by constant coverage of a condition in the media.

• Failure to order the correct diagnostic tests such as pap smears, biopsies, colonoscopies, CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays, or failure to read the test results properly.

• Patient gives an incomplete history. When patients omit parts of their history, it may cause doctors to overlook something important.

• Failure to notice and diagnose fetal problems or birth injury, and failure to call in a necessary specialist for neonatal or maternal care.

• Failure to link symptoms with the underlying condition.

• Failure to obtain results of medical tests, follow up, and communicate results to patients.

• Laboratory mistakes, such as reading the wrong sample or mixing up patients’ lab results.

What are Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions?

Commonly misdiagnosed conditions include:

• Cancer – Biopsy errors or misreading test results may cause cancer to be overlooked and left untreated.

• Cardiac disease and stroke -- Symptoms, such as severe headaches or chest pains, may be misdiagnosed as migraines or heartburn.

• Pneumonia, pulmonary embolism and aneurysm may not show up on chest X-rays. Aspergillosis, a fungal lung condition, is often misdiagnosed.

• Diabetes, renal disease or kidney problems.

• Colon holes or injuries may be overlooked during colonoscopies.

• Closed head injuries, brain injuries or concussions.

• Glaucoma or other eye conditions.

• Orthopedic and joint problems, including wrist, hip, femur and knee injuries.

Patient Safety in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority has been working to improve healthcare in the state for several. One of their central strategic pathways to accomplish this goal is through improved diagnoses. The Authority’s report for 2016 found that acute care facilities reported 255,714 events, including those classified as incidents and serious events. Errors and complications continue to be a leading cause of these events in the procedure, test and treatment phases of care.

The takeaway from the PSA’s report is that there are far too many preventable events occurring in the healthcare system. The Authority states that diagnoses can be improved through data analysis, collaborative information sharing and a focus on ambulatory clinics and practices.

Legal Options in Pennsylvania

Patients have a right to trust in the ability of their physician to correctly diagnose and treat their condition according to the acceptable standard of care. If these standards were not met due to negligence or incompetence that led to a wrong diagnosis and caused harm, you may be entitled to compensation through legal channels.

To win a lawsuit, you and your attorney must show that the duty of care was breached because of the negligent actions or inactions of the medical professionals or facility, and that this breach caused an injury or death. You must be able to demonstrate that:

• You have been injured;
• The injury is the result of a wrong diagnosis; and
• The doctor acted unreasonably or negligently when making that diagnosis.

Proving this can be difficult, and not every misdiagnosis is medical negligence, so you should seek the help of an experienced and qualified wrong diagnosis lawyer. Be aware that, generally, there is a two-year time limit for filing medical malpractice claims in Pennsylvania, although there may be additional time allowed for medical injuries involving children and where the injury was not immediately known.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clifford A. Rieders
Clifford A. Rieders is a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney and partner at Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann. He has authored many books about various areas of legal practice in Pennsylvania.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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