What’s the difference between a misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis? The two sound almost alike, and they can both result in serious problems for a patient. Both misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis may also constitute medical malpractice. But there are some important distinctions between the two terms.
Misdiagnosis means that a person with one medical condition was diagnosed by a doctor with another condition that they do not have. Examples of misdiagnosis include a nursing mother with inflammatory breast cancer being told that she has mastitis, and being given antibiotics; a young stroke patient being diagnosed with migraine, vertigo, or alcohol intoxication; or an elderly patient who is having a heart attack being sent home from the emergency room with a diagnosis of indigestion and a bottle of antacid.
In the best case scenario, a misdiagnosis results in a little frustration and the waste of some time and money. In the worst case scenario, the treatment for the wrong condition could further sicken or kill the patient, or delay diagnosis of the true condition until it is too late for it to be successfully treated. In some cases, the treatment for the misdiagnosed condition is the exact opposite of that for the real illness—meaning that the patient would have been better off had they not seen the doctor at all.
A doctor may misdiagnose a patient after failing to take a thorough health history, failing to order tests that are indicated by a patient’s symptoms, or by misreading test results.
Missed diagnosis is different from misdiagnosis, but may have similarly tragic results. Missed diagnosis, also called delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose, means that the medical professional did not realize a medical condition that a patient presented with signs and symptoms of. This may be because the doctor did not recognize a constellation of symptoms that should have prompted them to test for a certain condition, or because symptoms that might indicate a serious condition are also associated with a number of other, minor health issues.
In some cases, a busy doctor might not take time to get a complete history and physical of a patient, as might happen if the doctor has jumped to a certain conclusion—such as that a patient complaining of chronic pain is just “drug seeking.” There are also studies that have indicated that medical professionals give more weight to the symptom reporting of men than women, or whites over blacks. Many patients are told that the problem is “all in their head.” After being told this by multiple doctors, they may begin to distrust their own experience of pain or other symptoms. They may give up on the medical system, while their condition continues to worsen.
In some missed diagnosis cases, a suffering patient keeps seeking treatment, perhaps going to different doctors when the previous doctors haven’t been able to find the problem. While it may be necessary, this can actually perpetuate the cycle of missed diagnosis; subsequent doctors may give less credence to the reports of patients they see as “doctor-shopping.”
Of course, failure to diagnose or missed diagnosis can lead to heartbreaking results, especially in cancer cases when the illness could have been cured or managed if caught earlier. Other illnesses in which failure to diagnose is common include fibromyalgia, celiac disease, and Lyme disease, as well as infections like meningitis, which can be deadly if not promptly identified and treated. Sepsis is an immune response to bacterial infection which can also result in death if not diagnosed in a timely fashion.
Misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis are not an inevitable part of the diagnostic process. While medical professionals are human beings who make unavoidable mistakes, as we all do, many cases of misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose are simply the result of medical negligence.
If a doctor misdiagnosed you with a condition you don’t have, or failed to diagnose you with one that you do have, you may be entitled to compensation for the money you wasted on the wrong treatment, your pain and suffering, and the damage to your health as a result of not getting the right diagnosis when you should have.
Unfortunately, you have only a limited amount of time to file a claim on behalf of yourself or a loved one who died due to misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis. Consult with an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney to discuss whether you have a claim with merit. If you have questions about misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or other forms of medical malpractice, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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.
© 2019 Huegli Fraser PC