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Misdiagnosis and Medical Malpractice Claims

Casey Woodruff

Medical malpractice is the area of law that covers errors made by healthcare professionals. Medical malpractice errors can manifest in a variety of different ways, such as the improper administration of medicine or errors during a surgery. One type of medical error that can give rise to a medical malpractice lawsuit is a failure to diagnose. This occurs in cases where the doctor should have discovered a medical problem and immediately formulated a plan to treat it. However, a mere misdiagnosis is not enough to create a medical malpractice claim. Instead, the misdiagnosis must lead to a worsening of the condition or a loss of an opportunity to treat the condition.

How Doctors Diagnose Diseases

In order to understand a claim for misdiagnosis, it is helpful to understand the procedure that doctors go through to diagnose a patient with a disease. The process is referred to as differential diagnostic procedure, though in lay terms it basically amounts to a process of elimination. The doctors begin by compiling a list of all of the patient’s symptoms and then determining what possible diseases could result in those symptoms. Once the doctor has the list, they rank it in order of the most time-sensitive and harmful to least time-sensitive conditions. The doctor then runs tests to rule out the most dangerous causes of the disease first.

Pursuing a Misdiagnosis Claim

In order to win a misdiagnosis claim, a patient must prove that the doctor made a mistake in their differential diagnosis that a reasonably careful doctor would not have made. For instance, if a doctor leaves a potentially fatal condition off of his list of possible diagnoses because the disease is statistically unlikely, then that may be grounds for a claim of failure to diagnose if the condition causes the patient’s death. Similarly, such a claim may arise if the doctor considers the possibility of a disease, but then fails to run the proper tests to conclusively eliminate it.

Simply failing to diagnose a disease, even if doing so was egregiously careless, is not enough to bring a misdiagnosis claim. The patient must also prove some sort of injury as a result of the misdiagnosis. Take the example of cancer, which is a common disease for failure to diagnose claims. If the doctor takes too long to diagnose the cancer, but the cancer does not progress in the interim, then there would be no claim. However, if the doctor fails to diagnose the cancer and then the cancer spreads to other organs, then there is a much stronger case that it was the doctor’s failure to diagnose in a timely manner that led to the patient’s injuries.

Misdiagnosis cases can be complex, and often involve conflicting testimony from many different doctors. However, these sorts of lawsuits are important for holding careless doctors accountable when their actions endanger the lives of their patients. If you have been the victim of a misdiagnosis and want to learn more about your rights, talk to a Chicago medical malpractice attorney at Woodruff Johnson & Evans today.

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