Is Medical Misdiagnosis Always Due to Negligence?

doctor examining x-ray with patient

When doctors fail to diagnose or misdiagnose the condition, it could put the doctor or their practice at risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit. It's a common misconception that all misdiagnoses are considered medical malpractice, and while this often occurs, isn't always true. Even when using reasonable care, skilled doctors can still make diagnostic errors for which the law does not always hold doctors legally responsible. For a successful lawful action, it must be proven that the doctor's error was the root cause of the patient's injuries. In other words, the patient would not have been harmed if it weren't for the doctor's negligent act. Patients typically must prove four things in a medical malpractice lawsuit that is based on a wrongful diagnosis:

  • There was a doctor-patient relationship that existed
  • The doctor was, in fact, negligent in that they did not provide treatment in a reasonably skillful and contempt manner
  • The doctor's negligence was the cause of the actual patient's injury
  • The injuries resulted in damages

Differential Diagnosis

When determining whether the doctor made an error, it's essential to evaluate all elements of the decision of the diagnosis. This requires looking at the doctor's “differential diagnosis,” which will give a closer look at the doctor's method. After their initial evaluation, the doctor creates a list of possible diagnoses the patient could have. Each idea is then tested through medical observations such as:

  • Medical history
  • Referral to specialists
  • Detailed questioning about symptoms
  • Additional testing (radiology films, laboratory tests, etc.)

Through observation and testing, it's likely that the majority of the possibilities will be ruled out through investigation leaving only one diagnosis in the end. To ensure a successful lawsuit, it's imperative to prove that another doctor specializing in the same department wouldn't have misdiagnosed the condition if they were under similar circumstances. Some states require an affidavit of merit, which is a document from another doctor testifying that the first doctor was acting negligently. Ideally, the victim must prove one of the two possibilities:

  • The correct diagnosis was on the doctor's differential diagnosis list, but they failed to seek the proper tests or medical opinions from other specialists when investigating.
  • The doctor was negligent due to failure to include the correct diagnosis on their differential diagnosis list, and under similar circumstances, another skillful doctor would have included it.

Are Doctors Always the Reason for Misdiagnosis?

Sometimes when doctors rely solely on the information given by diagnostic tests, it could cause their patient to be misdiagnosed. Although laboratory testing is deemed reliable, there are instances where the test could be faulty and lead medical professionals to inaccurate conclusions. This can happen if:

  • Human error took place – This can be classified as technicians using improper procedures, technicians misreading x-rays or pathology slides, samples being contaminated or mixed up, or test results being misread.
  • The diagnostic equipment was faulty or inadequate.

When instances like this occur, the doctor may not always be liable, but other parties, such as the lab technician or another person, contribute to the cause of the patient's injuries.

Contact a Lawyer

If you or someone you know thinks you may have a medical malpractice case, it's important that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. You may be eligible for financial compensation, and working with a skilled attorney could be beneficial when fighting for the justice you deserve.

Filing claims for medical malpractice-related personal injuries can be challenging and time-consuming. You deserve to heal in peace without stressing about when and how your legal needs will be met. Here at Upton & Hatfield, LLP, we have the skill and knowledge you need on your side to see your case succeed. Our attorneys are dedicated to offering personalized support every step of the way. Let us be your voice.

Contact us today at (603) 716-9777 or visit us onlineto schedule your free consultation with a member of our team.