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Misdiagnosis and Medical Malpractice

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Doctors and other healthcare providers often do tremendous work in diagnosing and treating disease and injuries. To become a physician, surgeon, nurse, or pharmacist takes dedication, hard work, long hours, and meticulous attention to detail. However, there are healthcare providers who are not as competent as others or who make serious errors that can result in serious injuries and death. Misdiagnosing a particular condition is one aspect of medical malpractice or medical negligence that can cause pain and suffering that could have been avoided.

The Standard of Care

Professionals are held to certain standards of care just as ordinary persons are when engaged in certain activities. For instance, motorists have a legal duty to exercise ordinary care when operating a car, which means obeying the traffic laws and being a cautious and responsible driver. Property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe and to warn those lawfully on their property about known hazards. If a business owner, you have a duty to inspect your property for potential dangers.

Healthcare providers are held to a standard of care that those in their field have to meet when caring for or treating patients. In other words, how would other members of their profession in that field of care have reasonably acted and performed under similar circumstances in that community or a similar one? If the surgeon, orthopedist, neurologist, or other provider fails to meet that standard of care, then he or she may be held liable for any resulting injuries and damages that occur. But if no injury occurred or the patient suffered only minor complications that were quickly treated, then it is highly unlikely that malpractice will be found.

Not all doctors practice in communities where they have the same opportunities to refer patients to specialists or where they have access to certain diagnostic tools. Doctors in many rural areas hundreds of miles from the nearest urban area are not expected to adhere to the same standard of care as a similar physician in an urban area where those tools and resources are available.

A victim who alleges medical malpractice will need a qualified healthcare provider in the same field of practice as the defendant physician who can testify that the doctor breached the standard of care applicable to them. A doctor must at least exhibit a minimum level of competence in treating a patient or be held accountable.

Misdiagnosis as Malpractice

A misdiagnosis is delayed diagnosis. In many cases, if a certain medical condition is not treated quickly and appropriately then the patient's condition may worsen or lead to more complications requiring additional treatment that is often expensive and painful and may prolong the condition or result in a permanent disability or death. A patient may well come out worse than he or she would have if the condition had been correctly or timely diagnosed and have avoided unnecessary pain and suffering.

A misdiagnosis may include these conditions:

  • Lung, breast, colon or other cancers
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Medications
  • Diabetes
  • Appendicitis
  • Signs of arteriosclerosis
  • Broken limb or vertebrae

However, not all misdiagnosed conditions are considered malpractice, especially if the doctor exercised reasonable care and was otherwise competent. It largely depends on the method the physician used to diagnose the patient's condition.

Doctors are trained to use the "differential diagnosis" method. By examining the patient, reviewing the patient's medical history and asking questions, the doctor can form a list of possible diagnoses. He or she then assesses the strength of each by asking additional questions of the patient, making further observations, ordering tests or even referring the patient to a specialist.

In many cases, certain potential diagnoses are ruled out along the way until there is one that remains that is the most likely or fits the symptoms and other criteria. But even if a case does not turn out this way or an incorrect diagnosis is made, it may not always mean that the physician was incompetent or breached the standard of care.

To prove malpractice, your attorney will have to demonstrate that a similar doctor with the same specialty and practicing in the same or a similar community and under similar circumstances would have correctly diagnosed you. To show malpractice, you may have to prove:

  1. The physician did not include the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list whereas a reasonably competent physician under the same or similar conditions would have done so.
  2. The physician did have the correct diagnosis but ruled it out by not conducting the proper tests or by failing to consult with specialists.

If any one of these elements are demonstrated and supported by medical testimony from a physician in the same field as the defendant physician, then you may have a viable medical malpractice claim.

Harm to the Patient

A malpractice claim must include an element of damages or that the victim's condition worsened as a result of the misdiagnosis or delay in treatment. For example:
-A delay in diagnosing appendicitis that led to the victim's death
-A delay in diagnosing a broken cervical vertebrae that led to inappropriate treatment that caused paralysis
-By failing to diagnose cancer at an early stage when a reasonably competent doctor would have diagnosed it and treated it, the cancer metastasized and led to the patient's death.
In other words, the harm must be fairly serious.

Other Responsible Parties

In some instances, a doctor may have relied on inaccurate diagnostic tests because of a flaw in the test or diagnostic device. This can include X-ray film, lab tests, CT Scans or other tests. It is not that uncommon for blood samples to become contaminated or mixed up or a film or sample to not be read correctly by a technician or specialist. In such cases, the patient may have a cause of action against the technician, manufacturer of the diagnostic device, the lab where the samples were preserved, or the specialist.

Consult West, Longenbaugh & Zickerman

If you have a potential medical malpractice claim, reach out to attorneys who are experienced in this very complicated and often difficult legal area. The attorneys at West, Longenbaugh & Zickerman have the resources, experience and knowledge you will need to get the compensation you or your loved one deserves. Call our office for a free consultation at (520) 790-7337 today.

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310 S. Williams Blvd
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Tucson, AZ 85711

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