Many Medical malpractice cases involve instances where a physician either delayed diagnosis or missed a diagnosis of a medical condition, injury, or illness. When this happens, and a diagnostic error leads to a lack of treatment, or incorrect treatment, a person’s condition can become much worse than it otherwise would have been, had the error not occurred. However, a missed diagnosis or delayed diagnosis alone does not establish that a physician is negligent for the purposes of starting a medical malpractice lawsuit.
In order to establish that negligence occurred by a physician, an injured person in a medical malpractice lawsuit must prove two main things:
- The physician breached the standard of care owed to a patient – namely, that the physician did not provide treatment in a reasonably skilled and competent manner (Standard of care); and
- That the breach of the standard of care was the cause of the actual injury to the patient (Causation).
Both of the elements above have to be established in order to sustain a medical malpractice lawsuit, but neither one is straight forward.
Skilled doctors can make diagnostic errors even when using reasonable care, and often do. The rarer a condition is, the more difficult it is to say that a doctor did not provide reasonable care in diagnosis. Differential diagnosis is a method used by physicians to identify a condition in a patient. This involves making a list of diagnoses in order of likelihood. The physician then tests the strength of each diagnosis by asking questions, observing further symptoms, or by ordering tests. In a medical malpractice case where diagnostic error breaches a standard of care, the patient must prove that a physician in a similar specialty, under similar circumstances, would not have misdiagnosed the patient’s condition. That breach may have occurred by failing to perform appropriate tests or seek out opinions from specialists, or to follow-up with care after test results are received by the physician.
That said, even if there is a breach in the standard of care, the patient must prove that the breach was the cause of their injury. By way of an example, if a physician failed to diagnose a form of cancer that was only diagnosed at a medical appointment 6 months later, there could be a breach of the standard of care if the physician was expected to have made that diagnosis and carry out certain tests in the face of symptoms presented by the patient. However, if the 6 month delay in treatment did not cause any worsening of the patient’s condition, causation cannot be said to be made out. In that instance, a physician made an error and breached a standard of care, but the injury was not caused by that breach.
Cases of missed or delayed diagnosis are complicated matters and it is often essential to get advice from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can advise whether a missed or delayed diagnosis reached a level of medical negligence that would warrant a lawsuit. If you are concerned that you or a loved one has suffered injury as a result of a missed or delayed diagnosis, contact the lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie for advice.