The ability to correctly diagnose a health condition is one of the most important skills a clinician can possess. A correct and timely diagnosis can ensure that the appropriate treatment is initiated before the patient can get worse. On the other hand, an incorrect diagnosis can prevent or delay the proper treatment, and can allow a patient’s condition to deteriorate. It can even cause his or her death.
Unfortunately, diagnostic errors are not rare. An estimated 12 million patients are the victims of these errors in the United States each year. That equates to about one in every 20 patients diagnosed. Of these 12 million patients, over 100,000 suffer substantial, permanent injuries or death.
Types of Diagnostic Errors
The following is a list of diagnostic errors, each potentially harmful to a patient.
- Misdiagnosis: Also referred to as incorrect or wrong diagnosis, a misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor evaluates a patient’s symptoms and determines an incorrect cause of those symptoms. For example, a doctor determines that a patient’s chest pain is the result of indigestion, when in fact, the patient is experiencing a heart attack.
- Missed diagnosis or failure to diagnose: A missed diagnosis takes place when a doctor fails to detect a patient’s illness and gives the patient a clean bill of health.
- Delayed diagnosis: A delayed diagnosis occurs when a physician eventually makes the correct diagnosis, but only after a significant period of time has passed. This is the most common type of diagnostic error and is harmful because the delay allows the patient’s condition to get worse while the patient isn’t being treated. For example, a delayed diagnosis of cancer occurs when the disease, though detectible at an early stage, is allowed to progress to a late stage before it is caught. This delay may mean that there are fewer treatment options for the patient, or that the available treatments are less effective.
- Not recognizing complications: This occurs when the physician makes the correct diagnosis, but fails to identify complications that might make the patient’s condition worse.
- Not diagnosing a related disease: This happens when a physician makes the correct diagnosis, but fails to recognize a related disease that commonly occurs alongside the patient’s primary disease.
- Not diagnosing an unrelated disease: This takes place in cases where a physician diagnoses one disease correctly, but fails to diagnose another, completely unrelated disease that is present at the same time.
Common Causes of Diagnostic Errors
There are a multitude of causes for diagnostic errors, and the main one is that doctors are human. All humans make mistakes, and when a doctor sees hundreds of patients each week, sooner or later the doctor will likely commit a diagnostic error. However, because these errors are inevitable, doctors carry insurance policies to compensate patients who are harmed by them. The following are some reasons why a clinician might get a patient’s diagnosis wrong.
- The doctor fails to order the appropriate tests.
- The doctor fails to refer the patient to a specialist.
- The doctor feels tied to his/her original impressions.
- The doctor makes assumptions about the patient.
- The doctor blindly adheres to standardized procedures.
- Physician bias.
Get the Help You Need
Medical malpractice claims are complex affairs. They involve physicians, attorneys, insurance companies, and expert witnesses. To have a successful Florida claim, you will need an experienced legal team on your side. Faiella & Gulden, P.A., has been representing medical malpractice victims since 1980. Let us help you get the compensation you deserve. Call (407) 647-6111 for a free case evaluation.
We require no legal retainer or upfront fees, and you pay nothing unless we prevail. Call us for your free consultation.