What is a Medical Misdiagnosis?

If you have suffered intense physical or emotional damage due to a medical misdiagnosis, know that you have legal recourse to file a medical malpractice lawsuit and seek damages. Know your options by seeking the help of a medical malpractice attorney in Chicago.

What Constitutes a Misdiagnosis?

On its own, a medical practitioner’s failure to diagnose an illness or injury does not automatically constitute malpractice. Even the most experienced and highly competent physicians can make diagnostic errors from time to time. 

However, when a misdiagnosis worsens the patient’s medical condition as a result of delayed, incorrect, or nonexistent treatment, then a misdiagnosis can be the foundation of a successful medical malpractice lawsuit.

The following instances can constitute a medical misdiagnosis:

False Positive or Negative

A misdiagnosis can result if there is a false positive diagnosis, a false negative diagnosis, and/or a wrong diagnosis. A false positive result occurs when a physician diagnoses an illness that is in fact not present. A false negative shows the patient isn’t suffering from any medical condition when, in reality, they are. A Wrong diagnosis occurs when the physician diagnoses a patient with the wrong condition. These types of medical mistakes can occur in various settings including:

  • Test results are corrupted by foreign substances
  • Tests were conducted in improperly
  • A physician misinterprets the tests
  • A physician fails to order the proper tests
  • A physician fails to recognize signs and symptoms of a condition
  • A physician fails to proper perform a differential diagnosis

In some cases, the physician may not be liable for misdiagnosis when the fault lies with a different healthcare provider such as a nurse or technician that failed to perform their job properly. healthcare professional or technician administering the test or reading the slide. Under these circumstances, the nurse, technician, or other healthcare provider may be negligent and where the physician’s misdiagnosis was due to the other providers error.

Delayed Diagnosis

A delayed diagnosis is a common type of malpractice wherein a patient is diagnosed correctly only after an unreasonable amount of time has passed since first seeking treatment. In most cases, a delayed diagnosis causes the original condition to worsen before being given the proper treatment, resulting in extensive health consequences or, in worst-case scenarios, death. 

Malpractice due to a delayed diagnosis can be claimed when the physician is proven to have violated the medical standard of care owed to the patient. This can occur when:

  • The physician miscalculates their own ability to diagnose the patient
  • The attending physician rushes a consultation or examination to accommodate other patients
  • The healthcare facility is understaffed
  • Failure to perform a proper differential diagnosis 
  • Test results are mishandled

Failure to Diagnose the Root Cause

Correctly identifying a patient’s illness while failing to detect its root cause can result in the erroneous treatment of the disease. Although the symptoms or manifestations of the disease are treated, it can still cause harm to the patient as the actual condition is left untreated and allowed to progress. 

The failure to diagnose the root cause of the condition commonly can occur when:

  • No further tests were ordered despite observed abnormalities in earlier test results
  • Reported symptoms were dismissed as minor, temporary, or signs of another less-serious illness
  • The physician deems treatment unnecessary due to the less-serious nature of the symptoms
  • Failing to refer the patient to a specialist, despite test results showing a much-serious condition

Example Cases of Medical Misdiagnosis

On September 11, 2016, Pensacola firefighter Michael Vahle’s leg developed blue discoloration and started to ache after exposure to the waters of Pensacola Bay, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

As the pain and discoloration worsened, Vahle sought medical treatment at the Ascension Sacred Heart Urgent Care Center, where it was diagnosed as an ankle sprain. He was discharged with crutches and was told to ice and elevate his leg.

Vahle later sought a second opinion from a podiatrist, who determined that the firefighter was suffering from a necrotizing bacterial infection that needed to be aggressively treated with antibodies and dead tissue removal. But despite the physician’s best efforts, Vahle ultimately needed an above-knee amputation of his lower right leg to save his life.

Cases like Michael Vahle’s are not uncommon in the United States. In fact, this is only one of nearly 12 million cases of misdiagnosis in America each year. While only about 33% of misdiagnosed cases end in death or serious physical damage, medical practitioners should be held liable for the subsequent damage caused by their failure to diagnose a patient correctly.

How Can You Prove Negligence?

The law does not automatically hold medical practitioners liable for diagnostic errors they make. That is, just proving a misdiagnosis is not enough. Instead, there must be proof of the following legal elements:

  1. Duty: The plaintiff must be able to prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed at the time of the diagnosis, which means the physician had a duty to act as a competent provider of medical care to the patient.
  2. Breach: The physician in question is held liable for breach of duty when it can be established that no medical provider would have made the misdiagnosis that was made, instead of making the correct diagnosis.
  3. Causation: It must be proven that the misdiagnosis was at least a cause of patient’s harm.
  4. Damages: The harm inflicted on the patient as a result of the misdiagnosis must lead to any actual physical or emotional damage before a medical practitioner can be held liable.

In many cases of misdiagnosis, the physician failed to properly perform the steps of differential diagnosis. Differential diagnosis refers to the process by which physicians consider different conditions that may explain the patient’s presenting signs and symptoms and then attempt to rule in or rule out those conditions before arriving at the correct diagnosis.

The case for medical misdiagnosis can be strengthened by seeking a differential diagnosis from a different medical care provider, which will be used to prove the diagnostic error the first time around. 

What are Your Legal Options?

As the victim of a medical misdiagnosis, you have legal recourse to file a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit if you or a family member suffered some form of loss or damage due to the misdiagnosis.

If your condition was made worse due to a medical provider’s misdiagnosis and you lost wages or income such as from your job or business or if erroneous treatment caused permanent physical damage or the death of a family member, call your medical malpractice attorney immediately. They can help you put together a case to file for damages to cover the financial and non-financial costs of the medical misdiagnosis.

Additionally, your medical malpractice attorney can help with claiming damages for yourself or on behalf of a loved one if the misdiagnosis resulted in wrongful death. In this case, you can file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit to cover the cost of medical bills prior to death, emotional anguish, or the loss of support and guidance for the children.

Seek Expert Help Immediately in the Chicago Area

At Kroot Law, we are committed to protecting your right to receive competent medical care. If you did not get the medical attention you deserve and have suffered damages due to negligence from your medical practitioner, call the medical malpractice attorneys at Kroot Law at (312) 543-0030 for a free consultation.