Doctors have a legal and moral duty to treat their patients with an acceptable standard of care. Part of meeting that standard of care is providing timely and accurate diagnoses. Medicine is inherently uncertain, and many diseases and medical conditions mimic the symptoms of others, so honest mistakes can and do happen. However, when doctors fail to exercise the appropriate care or make egregious errors that cause injury to patients, they commit medical malpractice.
Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are common examples of medical malpractice that describe situations where a doctor should have been able to properly diagnose a patient but failed to do so. While some doctors may not wish to rush to a conclusion and rule out all other possibilities before delivering a diagnosis, it is crucial to do so quickly and responsibly. A delayed or incorrect diagnosis can have disastrous consequences for patients.
Proving Negligence for a Misdiagnosis
Even skilled doctors can make diagnostic errors, so an error itself does not constitute medical malpractice. The determining factor in deciding whether a doctor is guilty of malpractice is whether another reasonable doctor with an equivalent skill set would have acted similarly in the same situation. When doctors fail to exercise appropriate care, skill, and competence during the course of treatment, they become liable for malpractice if a patient suffers injury.
After suffering the ill effects of a delayed diagnosis or missed diagnosis, you’ll probably wonder whether you can seek legal recourse. If the incident harmed you in any way, you have a claim. Proving negligence in medical malpractice cases typically involves establishing four facts to the court:
- An official doctor-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff and defendant.
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care to provide timely and accurate treatment.
- The defendant failed to meet the appropriate standard of care or otherwise failed to uphold his or her duty of care.
- The patient suffered actual harm as a result. If a doctor makes a diagnostic error that’s quickly corrected or doesn’t harm the patient, the patient can’t claim malpractice. Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases must prove the extent of their injuries and losses to have a claim.
Damages in Misdiagnosis Cases
It’s important to note that a doctor may make a diagnostic error due to other individuals’ actions. For example, a doctor may order a blood panel on a patient and send a sample to a lab. The lab technician then negligently compromises the sample, creating a false positive. The doctor assumes the technician performed the blood panel correctly and refers to compromised data to deliver a fallacious diagnosis. The doctor did not commit malpractice in this situation, but the technician is guilty of medical negligence and is liable for any injury the patient may suffer due to the misdiagnosis.
Although doctors can often correct diagnostic errors quickly enough to prevent harm to their patients, some patients are not so lucky. A delayed diagnosis can cause a patient’s condition to worsen and reach critical levels, requiring more invasive and extensive treatment. An incorrect diagnosis could cause a patient to undergo an unnecessary surgical procedure or treatment with unpleasant side effects.
Any diagnostic error can potentially take a disastrous toll on a patient. The damages in most misdiagnosis cases include:
- Coverage for medical expenses related to correcting the diagnostic error.
- Pain and suffering for the emotional anguish and physical pain the patient endured as a result of the erroneous diagnosis.
- Lost income or lost earning capacity, if a misdiagnosis causes a patient to miss work for an extended time, he or she can sue for the wages he or she would have earned in that time. If a misdiagnosis harms a patient to such an extent that he or she can no longer work or must secure less demanding employment, he or she can sue for the wages he or she would have earned in the future.
The attorneys at Bode & Collins are proud to represent clients in medical malpractice cases all across Arizona. We understand the tremendous pressure facing doctors and honest mistakes sometimes happen. However, when mistakes happen due to negligence and patients suffer because of it, the responsible parties need to pay for the damage they cause. Reach out to our office to schedule a case evaluation about our misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis claim in Arizona today.