How Does Medical Misdiagnosis Happen?

Asking Doctor About Medical Misdiagnosis

With the advent of the internet and medical websites, many of us have become armchair physicians, plugging in our symptoms to a site and extracting a possible diagnosis for our minor aches and pains. When we're really worried, though, we turn to our doctors for a real diagnosis based on their years of education and experience. That diagnosis dictates a course of treatment, and the sooner we know what we're facing, the more likely we are to have a successful treatment. When the doctor says, "It's nothing serious," we breathe a sigh of relief and go on our way. When the doctor says, "I have some bad news," we submit to the recommended treatment because, after all the doctor knows best. Unfortunately, sometimes the doctor is wrong, and the patient suffers as a result. How does medical misdiagnosis happen?

Causes of Medical Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis can have a variety of causes, but one thing is often at the root of many of them: some type of negligence. Of course, it is possible that a doctor or hospital may do everything right, and still miss a rare or tricky condition. However, it's also common for the following factors to lead to a misdiagnosis:

Lack of Training

Lack of training at any level can mean that medical professionals miss crucial information that would lead to a correct diagnosis. A nurse who is not properly trained may neglect to report a critical symptom to a doctor that would have led the diagnostic process in the right direction. A poorly-trained physician might ignore signs that should have set off an alarm in his or her head.

Poor Communication

Sometimes the diagnostic process is like a game of "telephone;" numerous people are communicating with one another, and in the process, information gets dropped, missed, or changed as it travels from doctor to doctor or department to department. If essential information is not properly communicated, the diagnosing physician may reach a wrong conclusion.

Failure to Order the Right Tests

Usually, when a patient reports certain symptoms, those cue the doctor to order certain tests in order to follow up and either confirm a hunch or rule a certain condition out. If the doctor fails to order the right test, he or she may miss data that points to the correct diagnosis. Sometimes when doctors order a battery of tests, it is in an effort to avoid missing something.

Failure to Properly Perform Tests

Some medical tests, if not properly performed, will not yield the correct result. If medical staff don't follow the proper procedures when testing blood, positioning patients for x-rays and scans, and so on, vital information may be missed.

Failure to Correctly Interpret Tests

Unfortunately, not all medical testing provides a clear readout that unequivocally shows that a patient is positive or negative for a certain condition. Many tests, such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, are subject to interpretation, which means that an inattentive or ill-trained radiologist could miss something they should have noted. Other times, a positive test result could indicate one of multiple problems, and a doctor might conclude that a patient had a benign condition when he or she really had a serious one.


In order to save money, hospitals may employ fewer physicians and staff than are truly needed. No one can do their best work when they cannot devote the needed time and energy to it, and that is often the case in understaffed environments. Doctors and nurses rush from patient to patient, and may not take the time to gather the information they need. Physicians may not devote the time to examining scans and reading test results that is needed if they have a stack of files to get through.

As you can imagine, many of these factors may be in play at once. An understaffed hospital could mean that professionals don't receive the training they need, and then those professionals may rush through performing or interpreting tests. Often, when a misdiagnosis occurs, there are many reasons, not just one. When a negligent misdiagnosis causes harm to a patient, the result is medical malpractice.

What to Do After a Misdiagnosis

A misdiagnosis can lead to a delay in receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment. It may mean months of suffering with pain that could have been alleviated. In the worst case scenario, it may lead to death, when a correct diagnosis might have allowed for life-saving treatment. While not all cases of medical misdiagnosis constitute medical malpractice, many are.

If you were initially misdiagnosed only to suffer until your correct diagnosis was discovered, or if you lost a loved one due to a misdiagnosis, you should consult an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney. The delay in getting the correct diagnosis may have led to increased medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other loss for which you may be entitled to payment. Unfortunately, no amount of financial payment can make up for lost time and physical and emotional pain. But it can give you a little financial security and hold those who injured you accountable for their actions—which might prevent misdiagnosis and suffering for someone else.

If you have questions about medical misdiagnosis, we invite you to contact our law firm for a free consultation.

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.