How Often Do Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis Occur?

By Peter DePaolis

A new report from the Institute of Medicine seems almost unbelievable: Most people will experience at least one misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis at some point in their lives. The report calls for urgent changes in health care, as misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis can have devastating consequences.

Getting the correct diagnosis at the right time is critical. However, the report found diagnostic errors don’t get enough attention.

“Patients are central to a solution,” said Dr. John Ball of the American College of Physicians, who chaired the report committee.

The report said better teamwork is needed between health providers, such as doctors and nurses, and the patient needs to be part of the team as well. Providers must take patients’ complaints more seriously, get copies of test results and medical records quicker and urge them to ask, “Could it be something else?”

When, for instance, the patient’s third doctor finally gets the right diagnosis, the committee says it should become the norm for that physician to call the others and say, “It turned out this patient had X and not Y” – so health providers can learn from their mistakes.

What are Common Examples of Delayed Diagnoses or Misdiagnoses?

The report outlined several examples of misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis:

  • A woman with a family history of heart disease repeatedly asked her doctor to refer her to a cardiologist for a stress test. Three months after her initial request, she died because of coronary artery disease on the day of her appointment.
  • A doctor mistook a blood clot in the lungs of a woman for an asthma attack, leading her to her death.
  • A clinician misread an X-ray and diagnosed a man with an upper respiratory infection instead of pneumonia. He died as a result of the misdiagnosis.
  • Doctors decided not to perform a CT scan on a stabbing victim and missed a knife wound penetrating several inches into the man’s skull and brain.

Consequences of the Misdiagnosis of a Serious Medical Condition

Failure by a doctor to diagnose or treat a serious medical condition is also considered medical malpractice. If a disease is treatable in early stages, progression of the disease can mean increased medical bills, extended pain and suffering, lost time from work and even death, if the disease is at a stage too advanced to treat.

The elements of a medical malpractice claim are as followed:

  • A doctor patient relationship existed.
  • The doctor failed to meet the reasonable standard of care in testing or treating a patient. This standard of care would be determined by other doctors or experts in that same field of medicine.
  • That failure to meet the reasonable standard of care was the proximate cause of the injury to the patient.
  • The patient suffered damages as a result of the injury.

Uncover the Truth of Your Potential Misdiagnosis Claim

If you feel that you have been misdiagnosed or experienced a delayed diagnosis, it is important that you reach out to a medical malpractice lawyer to assist you in reviewing your claim. The most difficult part of medical malpractice cases is that patients do not know the truth about what happened to them. Doctors are forbidden by their employers and insurance carriers from admitting errors, even if the doctor wants to admit a mistake was made to his or her patient. Having the medical records and the situation reviewed by lawyers assisted by medical experts is the first step to finding out the truth.

Koonz, McKenney, Johnson & DePaolis L.L.P. – Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Attorneys

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.