Misdiagnosis Alone Does Not Equal Malpractice In Every Case

A misdiagnosis does not always mean that the physician committed malpractice. For example, if the laboratory mixed up your test results, your lawsuit might be against the lab, not the doctor.

On the other hand, if the physician should have known the flawed test results were wrong, the doctor might have breached the duty of care. By way of example, if the lab reported that your thyroid biopsy showed advanced cancer, but your surgeon biopsied your lung, not your thyroid, then your doctor had reason to question the lab results.

Misdiagnosis Versus Failure to Diagnose

A failure to diagnose is different from a misdiagnosis. A misdiagnosis happens when the medical professional diagnoses you with something you do not have, such as mistaking pancreatic cancer for stress-related inflammatory bowel syndrome.

A failure to diagnose is when you tell your doctor about symptoms you are experiencing, but they fail to diagnose your condition. For example, if you went to the emergency room with all the classic symptoms of kidney stones, but they say it is just food poisoning and tell you to go home and drink plenty of fluids, they have failed to diagnose your actual condition.

The Requirement of Measurable Harm

Georgia law requires quantifiable harm for medical malpractice. If you did not suffer quantifiable harm, you do not have a claim. The law usually measures damage in dollars or physical harm. If the misdiagnosis caused you to incur additional medical expenses or compromise your health, those facts satisfy the requirement of measurable harm.

Let’s say that a patient had cancer, but the doctor misdiagnosed it as something else. A year after the patient reported the symptoms that should have caused the physician to explore the possibility of malignancy, another doctor discovered the cancer. In the intervening time, the cancer progressed to an untreatable stage. The patient suffered quantifiable harm.

On the other hand, if the original doctor realized the mistake one day after the misdiagnosis and called the patient back in to begin appropriate treatment, there was nomeasurable harm. Emotional distress by itself is not quantifiable harm for purposes of misdiagnosis.

Georgia’s Standard of Reasonable Care for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The misdiagnosis must violate the doctor’s statutory duty to practice medicine using a “reasonable degree of skill and effort.” GA Code § 51-1-27 (2016). The law does not hold medical professionals to a standard of perfection. The mistake must be a failure of the duty of reasonable care to amount to medical malpractice.

Jason R. Schultz
Helping Georgia area residents with car accident, medical malpractice, and personal injury claims since 1991.