Types of Diagnostic Errors and Proving Medical Malpractice

Jason R. Schultz
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Jason R. Schultz is a Peachtree City Personal Injury Attorney Serving the Greater Atlanta Metro Area

Medical malpractice stems from a variety of mistakes and acts of negligence. Surgical slip-ups and medication mishaps tend to be better known. However, an oftentimes overlooked common form of malpractice is a diagnostic error.

Types of Diagnostic Mistakes

When something goes wrong in a diagnosis, it can have severe or life-threatening consequences. Even a condition that starts out as mild could develop into a serious health problem when a physician or another healthcare provider makes a diagnostic mistake.

One example is when there is a delay in diagnosing a condition. This could happen when test results slip through the cracks and aren’t discovered until much later.

Another is when an incorrect diagnosis is given. Symptoms might mimic a less serious condition and the patient may not receive vital treatment. In some cases, a more serious condition may be diagnosed than what the patient actually has, which could result in invasive, expensive treatment.

A failure to diagnose could result in a patient leaving a doctor’s office with no answers or thinking that no disease or medical condition is present. As a result, there could be complications that develop because the problem is not addressed.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case Stemming from a Diagnostic Error

To prove medical malpractice, the first thing is establishing there was a doctor/patient relationship. A second element is proving that the healthcare provider didn’t provide a reasonable standard of care.

A diagnostic error in itself isn’t a reason to file a claim, but when negligence was the cause of it, then the patient might have a case.

Examples of negligence might include:

  • not taking into consideration the patient’s medical history;
  • failing to order tests;
  • misinterpreting the results; or
  • ignoring symptoms. 

The final element is being able to connect the act of negligence to an actual injury. Failing to diagnose a mild condition is one thing. But certain conditions—such as heart failure, cancer or stroke—could result in permanent damage or death when not diagnosed accurately. 

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