When is misdiagnosis a form of medical malpractice?

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Misdiagnosis is a common basis for medical malpractice claims. However, it's important to keep in mind that a misdiagnosis doesn't necessarily mean your doctor is guilty of malpractice. Misdiagnosis as malpractice

How Misdiagnosis Occurs

Despite all the advances in modern medicine, healthcare providers are still human. Errors in diagnosis can be made for many different reasons. Common risk factors for misdiagnosis include:

  • The patient is a child or someone who has cognitive delays that affect his ability to accurately describe symptoms.
  • The condition involves vague symptoms such as a stomach ache, sore throat, or a headache—indicating many different potential health problems.
  • The patient suffers from a rare condition that the typical healthcare provider has little or no experience with.
  • The communication between the doctor and the lab conducting the diagnostic tests is inadequate.

Common examples of conditions that are misdiagnosed include:

  • Asthma misdiagnosed as recurrent bronchitis
  • Benign tumor misdiagnosed as cancerous
  • Celiac disease misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Heart attack misdiagnosed as a panic attack or severe indigestion
  • Staph infection misdiagnosed as the flu
  • Stroke misdiagnosed as a migraine
  • Thyroid condition misdiagnosed as depression

Misdiagnosis can also refer to a delay in diagnosis. This can include having symptoms dismissed as the result of an overactive imagination when they were in fact signs of a serious medical issue.

Establishing A Malpractice Claim

A misdiagnosis doesn't always qualify as medical malpractice. To establish a successful malpractice claim, you must be able to prove that the misdiagnosis was the result of negligence and caused direct harm. If the error was one that a reasonable physician would have made given the circumstances, there is no evidence of negligence. If the error was quickly caught and did not affect your treatment options, there are no damages to seek compensation for.

The process of determining if a misdiagnosis rises to the level of negligence generally relies heavily on expert testimony. Healthcare providers specializing in the patient's condition will testify as to the appropriate standard of care given the symptoms that were present. Testimony from experts often focuses on differential diagnosis, which is a tool that doctors use to continually rule out different diseases until they find the correct cause of a patient's condition. It's a form of medical detective work, using the following steps:

  1. List the patient's symptoms.
  2. Conduct various diagnostic tests.
  3. Make a list of potential medical conditions that could be causing the patient's symptoms.
  4. Use test results and medical knowledge to eliminate or rule out causes of the symptoms until the correct diagnosis is made. The most serious or potentially life-threatening causes should be ruled out first before less serious conditions are considered.

Establishing harm requires showing that you suffered damages as the result of the physician's conduct. You may show evidence that the misdiagnosis caused you to experience one of the following:

  • Increased risk of complications
  • Decreased your risk of survival
  • Required you to undergo more aggressive treatment than would have been necessary if your condition was diagnosed earlier
  • Made you undergo needless but potentially harmful procedures such as chemotherapy or radiation

Protecting Your Right To Compensation

If you are successfully able to establish all of the elements necessary for a malpractice claim, you can seek compensation for:

  • Medical care related to the malpractice injury such as additional surgical procedures, hospital stays, medication, and therapy
  • Anticipated future medical needs, if the malpractice injury left you permanently disabled
  • Lost wages for the time you were unable to work due to your injury
  • Any applicable loss of future earning potential
  • Pain and suffering

Since malpractice law can be quite complex, the best way to protect your right to compensation is to hire an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can gather evidence and negotiate on your behalf to ensure that you receive the highest possible settlement. The legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to helping Louisiana residents advocate for their right to malpractice compensation after suffering harm related to a misdiagnosis. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.