IS MISDIAGNOSIS ALWAYS MEDICAL MALPRACTICE? Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury 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. Frequently Misdiagnosed Conditions 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. Aortic Dissection: A subtle but deadly condition, aortic dissection occurs as a result of a tear in the inner wall of one of the largest and most essential artery in the body. The tear allows for blood to seek through the layers of the wall and gradually tear the wall apart. If the dissection results in a complete tear, rapid blood loss will result in death. Dissections resulting in complete rupture have a 80% fatality rate, 50% of which occurs before the victim reaches the emergency room. The Harvard study found that this condition is frequently mistaken for simple heartburn. While symptoms may often be obvious as to the dissection occurring, such as a distinct tearing sensation in the chest, misdiagnosis can delay treatment and increase the risk of death. Cancer: The Harvard study revealed that cancer was in the subject line for most of the misdiagnosis malpractice claims in the country, especially in the case of breast cancer. While the reason for these misdiagnoses are still unknown, some believe that doctors often fail to follow procedures in screening for cancer which can delay otherwise essential treatment. Infection: Following cancer as the most misdiagnosed condition, infection is also an extremely dangerous condition susceptible to being overlooked if the doctor is not thorough in his or her examination of the patient. Clogged Arteries: In recent years, the clogging of arteries has become an extremely frequent enemy of the health of Americans. Symptoms such as shortness of breath are often mistaken for being out of shape. Because of the high risk of coronary artery disease, doctors are expected to exercise care in evaluating their patients’ symptoms, especially those who fall in the category most susceptible to the condition. Heart Attack: While this frequently theatrical condition seems out of place in this list, the Harvard study found that heart attacks are not always so clear. Often times, the only signs of an attack resemble simply being “under the weather” such as nausea, the sensation of fullness in the chest. 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.