A majority of malpractice cases filed every year involve an error or omission of action concerning a doctor’s diagnostic practices. However, due to the number of factors that can contribute to an error in diagnosis, the question remains: is misdiagnosis always medical malpractice. Because medicine does not claim to be an exact science, doctors are not legally required to be infallible. The key to a malpractice claim involving misdiagnosis is to show that the doctor was negligent in the practices of diagnosing the injured patient.
There are several situations of misdiagnosis that do not warrant a claim of malpractice. While a mistake may have occurred, it either did not cause further injury to the patient or the doctor had no control over preventing the error. It is common knowledge that medicine is increasingly reliant on technological equipment and unfortunately, that equipment is not always perfect in its results.
When proving that misdiagnosis is medical malpractice, the patient will be required to show three key elements in order to implicate the doctor as the culprit for their injuries. First and foremost, there must be an injury. While misdiagnosis may cause frustration or emotional distress by way of anxiety or fear, medical malpractice law requires an actual, medically defined injury to exist in order for there to be a claim. These injuries are known as damages. Therefore, in order for a misdiagnosis claim to be considered malpractice, the patient must have been actually injured by the error in diagnosis as opposed to simple inconvenienced by it.
Before the subject of injury arises, the patient must first show the court that they and the doctor named in the suit had an established relationship that made the doctor responsible for the health of the patient. This shows that the doctor’s decisions had the potential to directly affect the well-being of the patient and as a healthcare provider, he or she was required to exercise care to the required standard.
Once the relationship has been established, the patient must then prove that the doctor failed, at some point, in his or her duty to exercise care to the standard required of them. This is known as a breach of duty. Examples of a breach of duty concerning diagnosis include the neglect of the patient’s medical history or failing to order the appropriate test according to the patient’s symptoms.
Lastly, the patient will be required to prove causation. This means that the doctor’s breach of duty directly caused the injury of the patient, assuming there is an injury. At this point, the importance of causation and damages becomes the key component in the case because without damages, the doctor would not be guilty of causation. In order for the doctor to be guilty of medical malpractice and responsible for the patient’s injuries, his or her action must be the direct cause of the injury. In other words, if the doctor had not made that error under the same circumstances, the patient would not have been injured.
While the room for error is present in any scenario, there are several medical conditions that are especially prone to misdiagnosis. A study by Harvard revealed the five most commonly misdiagnosed conditions, all of which can have fatal consequences. The study also found that these conditions make up for a majority of the malpractice cases awarded for misdiagnosis.
In order to minimize the risk of being a victim of misdiagnosis, patients are encouraged to request more thorough testing. While doctors are considered the highly-experienced, no amount of education can replace the actual experience of symptoms. Therefore, if a patient is not satisfied with the way his or her doctor came to a conclusion, they should exercise their right to request more tests. Furthermore, seeking a second opinion can also provide the patient with an evaluation by a fresh set of eyes and reveal things the first doctor overlooked. While misdiagnosis can be recompensed in a medical malpractice claim, the risk of injury or death should encourage patients to take control of their well-being and do everything they can to protect themselves and their family from pain and loss.