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When is a Misdiagnosis also Medical Malpractice?

By Burg Simpson
August 7, 2020
3 min read

As a patient, you rely on your physician to accurately diagnose and treat you. If, however, your physician is negligent in diagnosing your condition, your health, and even your life, may be at risk.

How Misdiagnosis Happens

A misdiagnosis can happen in several ways. To understand how, let’s take a brief look at how the diagnostic decision generally is made.

  • Overview of the diagnostic process

Physicians are taught to identify potential conditions afflicting patients based upon a patient’s medical history, symptoms, and physical exam. Often a patient’s history, exam, and symptoms indicate several possible conditions. For example, a person with sneezing, a runny nose, and fatigue may have a cold, sinus infection, allergies, or several other conditions. Thus, the physician develops a “differential diagnoses”: a list of possible conditions that could be causing the patient’s symptoms.

Once the physician determines the differential diagnoses, then he or she will perform additional tests or assessments to determine the actual diagnosis. In general, this process involves ruling out the more serious potential diagnoses first. For example, Fred goes to the emergency room with chest pain. He tells the emergency room physician that he had a very, very spicy meal a few hours before. Acid reflux and a heart attack are both common sources of chest pain, and therefore would be among the physician’s differential diagnoses. However, since a heart attack can be deadly, the physician would first make sure Fred is not having one.

  • Where things can go wrong

Since the diagnostic process is comprised of multiple steps, it can run awry at multiple points. One of the most common mistakes, however, occurs when either a doctor fails to consider a condition for his or her differential or rules out a condition too quickly. For example, confusion and disorientation can be caused by intoxication, but it can also be caused by head trauma and potentially life threatening conditions. If a physician assumes intoxication and does not properly rule out the more severe diagnosis, the patient’s health may suffer.

Another common area of mistake is the faulty reports of others. For example, if a radiologist negligently reports a CT scan as clear when, in fact, the CT scan showed a possibly cancerous mass, the physician will rule out cancer as a condition, leading to a potential misdiagnosis.

Can a physician be held responsible for a misdiagnosis?

If the physician was negligent in forming a differential diagnosis or in ruling out a potential diagnosis, then he or she may be held liable for the harms the misdiagnosis caused. For more information on what constitutes medical negligence, click here. Additionally, if a radiologist, lab technician, or other medical professional’s negligence led to the misdiagnosis, they can be held liable for the harms their negligence caused.

Burg Simpson’s Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Cincinnati are Here for You

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a negligent misdiagnosis, you must act fast. Most states have a very short time frame in which you can pursue a medical negligence case, thus it is critical that you contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Burg Simpson’s Cincinnati medical malpractice attorneys are experienced trial lawyers who are willing and able to fight for the justice you deserve. Call Burg Simpson’s Cincinnati medical malpractice lawyers today at 513-852-5600 or fill out our free case evaluation form to discuss your case with us.

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