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Are Diagnostic Errors Considered Medical Malpractice?

gavel and stethoscope

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine defines a diagnostic error as an event that occurs when a doctor either fails to accurately and timely provide a diagnosis for a patient's symptoms or does not clearly communicate the diagnosis to the patient. Every year, thousands of people are seriously injured or die because of diagnostic errors.

Diagnostic errors include:

  • Missed diagnoses: The doctor does not correctly identify or explain the reason for the patient's health condition. As such, the patient may suffer additional harm because they don't receive the treatment they need.
  • Delayed diagnoses: The doctor does not make a timely diagnosis of the cause for the patient's symptoms. The length of time between the incorrect and correct diagnoses can result in improper care and a worsening of the patient's condition.
  • Misdiagnosis: The doctor incorrectly assigns the symptoms to a disease the patient does not have and delivers the wrong treatments, which can cause the condition to worsen because of improper care.

The process for accurately identifying and treating and illness or disease is complicated and several factors can contribute to a diagnostic error. Thus, although a diagnostic error may have occurred, that does not necessarily give rise to a medical malpractice claim.

That being said, a recent study found that diagnostic errors were the leading cause of payable claims in the U.S. between 2013 and 2017. The study also noted that most claims involved the diagnosis of cancer, infections, cardiovascular conditions, fractures and dislocations, and myocardial infarctions.

So, when is a diagnostic error considered medical malpractice?

What the Patient Must Prove in a Medical Malpractice Claim

When a person brings a medical malpractice claim, the burden rests on them to prove the allegations are true.

To do this, they must show that:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed;
  • The doctor failed to provide the standard level of care, leading to a diagnostic error; and
  • The diagnostic error led to further complications or a worsening of the patient's condition

Thus, a diagnostic error is considered malpractice when it arises from the doctor's negligence.

Often, meeting the burden of proof can be challenging, especially when the other side's lawyers are fighting to show that the patient's claims are baseless. Typically, the person making the allegations must rely on testimony from experts in the field to demonstrate that any other professional in the same or similar situation would have acted differently. In other words, a competent doctor adhering to the standard level of care would have accurately and timely diagnosed the condition.

Because of the difficulties inherent in medical malpractice claims, it's best to pursue them with the help of a personal injury lawyer who knows how they work. It's especially critical to retain representation from an attorney with the resources necessary to collect evidence, including expert testimony, and build a strong case to back the person's claims.

If you or a loved one suffered harm because of a diagnostic error, contact the Law Offices of Keith J. Nedwick, P.C. at (866) 590-8173. Our Norman, OK, attorneys will provide compassionate guidance throughout your case.