Can You Sue a Doctor for Misdiagnosis? 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Can You Sue a Doctor for Misdiagnosis? 

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

Accurate medical diagnosis is key for effective healthcare. It guides treatment plans and shapes patient outcomes. However, in the complex and sometimes unpredictable world of medicine, errors in diagnosis are an unfortunate reality. The question arises: Can a patient pursue legal action against a doctor for a misdiagnosis?

If you believe you have received  a misdiagnosis that caused you to need more medical treatment,  talk to Malman Law today about your situation.

Defining Medical Misdiagnosis

At its core, medical misdiagnosis means a healthcare professional inaccurately identifies your medical condition or failed to recognize it altogether. This error can occur at any stage of the diagnostic process, from initial assessment to follow-ups, potentially leading to inappropriate treatment or a delay in necessary care. It’s worth noting that misdiagnosis isn’t limited to a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ judgment; it often involves uncertainty and a wide range of possible diagnoses. What is important is that some medical errors can be because of serious mistakes and cause a patient harm.

Common Scenarios and Causes of Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnoses can take different forms and can happen in many medical specialties. There are also many potential causes of misdiagnoses, sometimes working in combination to increase the chances of medical error. Some of the most common causes of misdiagnosis include:

  • Time Constraints and High Patient Volumes: Limited time for in-depth consultations may result in incomplete patient evaluations, while a demanding schedule can further contribute to rushed assessments and oversight of critical details.
  • Communication Breakdowns: Inadequate exchange of information among healthcare providers can hinder a comprehensive understanding of the patient’s condition. Misinterpretation or miscommunication of doctor’s notes can lead to incorrect diagnostic conclusions.
  • Failure to Recognize Atypical Presentations: Uncommon or atypical manifestations of a condition may not align with conventional diagnostic patterns, leading to a potential oversight. In these cases, clinicians may not readily consider the less common diagnosis, delaying appropriate treatment.
  • Reliance on Tests: Diagnostic tests, while invaluable, can yield false positives or negatives, introducing a potential source of error. Various factors, including the quality of equipment and the expertise of technicians, can influence the interpretation of test results.
  • Overlapping Symptoms: Conditions with overlapping symptoms can present diagnostic challenges, as it may be difficult to distinguish between them without thorough evaluation. If all possibilities are not sufficiently explored, misdiagnoses may result.
  • Incomplete Patient History: When making accurate medical diagnoses, pre-existing conditions and all other aspects of a patient’s present and past circumstances must be considered. Inadequate or incomplete patient histories can hinder the diagnostic process, potentially leading to a misjudgment of the underlying condition.
  • Lack of Access to Specialized Expertise: In some cases, limited access to specialized medical expertise or resources may contribute to diagnostic uncertainty. This is particularly true for rare or complex conditions that general practitioners may not be equipped to recognize, diagnose, or treat.

The Impact of Misdiagnosis on Patients

A misdiagnosis can have serious effects on a patient’s health and well-being. It can have significant emotional, financial, and social effects. The possible effects of medical misdiagnosis can be devastating, from unnecessary expenses to wrongful death.

  • Delayed Treatment and Progression of the Condition: In serious or time-sensitive conditions, a misdiagnosis can lead to delays in receiving appropriate treatment, allowing the condition to progress. For instance, misdiagnosing cancer as a benign condition can result in the disease advancing to a more advanced or even terminal stage.
  • Unnecessary Treatments and Procedures: When a patient receives a misdiagnosis, they may be prescribed treatments, medications, or even unnecessary surgeries, which can also subject them to a range of significant risks and potential side effects.
  • Added Financial Burden: Misdiagnoses can lead to extensive medical bills, including costs associated with unnecessary medications and treatments, additional consultations, and specialized therapies prescribed based on an incorrect diagnosis. These expenses can be substantial, particularly for complex or invasive interventions.
  • Loss of Trust in the Healthcare System: Experiencing a misdiagnosis can erode a patient’s faith in their healthcare providers and the medical system, potentially impacting their willingness to seek timely care.
  • Psychological Impact: Misled regarding serious issues such as one’s health, intentionally or unintentionally, can take a toll on a patient’s mental and emotional well-being. They may grapple with feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even depression as they navigate through treatments that ultimately offer no relief from their actual condition.

The Standard of Care in Medical Misdiagnosis Cases

The “standard of care” is a legal term used in medical malpractice cases to define the level of skill, expertise, and treatment a healthcare worker should provide. It outlines what providers should do when diagnosing, treating, and caring for patients. This standard depends on the situation at hand.

When looking at medical malpractice claims, courts consider whether a healthcare provider’s actions met this established standard or not. If someone directly resulted in harm or injury to a patient, it may be a breach of the standard of care, which may be a malpractice claim. As medical misdiagnosis falls under the medical malpractice umbrella, identifying and proving a breach of the standard of care is necessary for these cases to succeed.

Proving Medical Negligence

Proving medical negligence in a misdiagnosis case is typically a complex process. It involves examining the circumstances surrounding the diagnosis and showing a clear link between the misdiagnosis and the harm to the patient. Below are the key steps and evidence required to show a doctor’s negligence:

  • Doctor-Patient Relationship: First, it must be established that a doctor-patient relationship exists, which can be achieved by presenting medical records, appointment schedules, or witness testimonies.
  • Define the Standard of Care: This step involves establishing what a reasonably skilled and knowledgeable healthcare professional in the same field would have done under similar circumstances. This includes recognizing signs and symptoms of conditions and knowing how to approach various scenarios professionally and competently.
  • Deviation from Standard Procedures: Next, evidence that clearly shows how the doctor’s actions deviated from the established standard of care must be provided. This may involve documenting specific actions or omissions that led to the misdiagnosis or comparing the doctor’s decision-making process with what a competent peer in the same field would have done.
  • Establish Causation: Next, it must be proven that the doctor’s deviation from the standard of care directly caused harm or injury to the patient. This includes demonstrating a link between the harm and the doctor’s actions and showing how a correct diagnosis would have led to a different treatment or a better outcome.
  • Impact on the Patient: This step illustrates the physical, emotional, and financial repercussions suffered by the patient due to the misdiagnosis. This may include prolonged suffering, additional medical expenses, loss of income, or diminished quality of life.

Consult With a Skilled Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If a medical misdiagnosis hurts you or a loved one, you may be entitled to compensation for your financial losses and pain and suffering. At Malman Law, our medical malpractice attorneys are here to help malpractice victims take control of their health and futures, and we are committed to pursuing justice on your behalf. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation. We will fight to protect your rights and work hard to help you recover compensation for your losses.

Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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