How To Prove Misdiagnosis

January 24, 2023

Doctors and other medical providers are human — they can be careless or make mistakes like the rest of us. But medical errors can have serious consequences. If you're one of the many who have suffered due to medical misdiagnosis, then you may be entitled to compensation. Read on to find out the answers to the following questions and more: 

  • Can you sue a doctor for a misdiagnosis?
  • What do you need to prove in a misdiagnosis lawsuit?
  • How do you find a lawyer for medical misdiagnosis?

Types of Diagnostic Errors

Unfortunately, Americans frequently experience diagnostic errors. When most people think about diagnostic errors, they think of a misdiagnosis — when a medical provider diagnoses someone with the wrong condition. But diagnostic errors come in different types, including:

  • Misdiagnosis or wrong diagnosis. This is the most common type of diagnostic error. In these cases, the medical provider diagnoses the patient with one medical condition when the patient actually has something else.
  • Missed diagnosis. This error occurs when a medical provider misses that a patient has a medical condition altogether. The provider makes no diagnosis at all, even though the provider should have known that the patient had a medical condition.
  • Delayed diagnosis. This occurs if the provider takes too long to diagnose a condition. In these cases, the provider should have had enough information to make the diagnosis earlier. A delayed diagnosis is particularly significant if earlier treatment for a disease could have changed the patient's outcome, such as a cancer diagnosis

How To Prove an Incorrect Diagnosis

To prove an incorrect diagnosis, you will need to do more than prove that a doctor or other medical provider committed a diagnostic error. First, you must establish that a provider-patient relationship existed between you and the provider. Next, you will need to prove that the provider was actually negligent in making the diagnostic error. Finally, you must prove that the diagnostic error caused some harm to you.

The Existence of a Provider-Patient Relationship

In most cases, the existence of a provider-patient relationship will be easy to prove. If you have an established relationship with the provider — the provider examined you before making the diagnosis or otherwise consented to treat you — then a provider-patient relationship existed. 

However, a provider-patient relationship does not always exist. The provider must have consented to treat you specifically. For example, if the provider was merely speaking to an audience to provide general medical education and not specific medical advice, then a provider-patient relationship does exist. However, a provider may be liable to third parties in limited circumstances, such as when the patient is pregnant.

The Provider's Negligence in Upholding the Standard of Care

Not all diagnostic errors are a result of negligence. As long as the provider met the standard of care in the diagnostic process, then the provider cannot be held liable for making a diagnostic error. To meet the standard of care, the provider must have used the skill, knowledge, and procedures that the medical community in the area would ordinarily use. This means that a provider does not need to use cutting-edge or state-of-the-art methods to diagnose the patient, even if those methods would have resulted in the correct diagnosis.

However, if the provider did not meet the standard of care when making the diagnostic error, then the provider could be held liable. To establish that the provider failed to meet the standard of care, you need an expert witness who will testify what the standard was and that a medical provider following the standard of care would have made an accurate diagnosis. Often this involves one of the following:

  • The provider failed to follow diagnostic guidelines established by professional medical associations. 
  • The provider failed to follow another standard practice in examining you, ordering tests, or interpreting test results.
  • A primary care physician or another provider should not have tried to diagnose you. Instead, they should have referred you to another type of clinical practice since your symptoms or condition were outside the scope of their specialty.

The Harm Directly Caused by the Misdiagnosis

Finally, you must show that the diagnostic error was the cause of an injury. It is not enough that your provider made some sort of medical error. Instead, the diagnostic error must have harmed you in some way. For example, if you were misdiagnosed with one upper respiratory virus but had a different kind and the treatment and outcome were the same for both viruses, then the misdiagnosis did not cause you any harm. 

In most cases, a diagnostic error caused significant harm. These may include one or more of the following:

  • Increased risk of death. In these cases, sometimes referred to as "lost chances" cases, the diagnostic error increases your risk of death. For instance, in a delayed diagnosis case, earlier treatment may have resulted in a lower risk of death than later treatment.
  • Quality of life impacted. In these cases, the diagnostic error negatively impacts your quality of life. In a failure-to-diagnose case, for example, you may experience ongoing symptoms that negatively affect your quality of life. Because your provider has failed to diagnose you, you may not receive appropriate treatment to resolve your symptoms. In a misdiagnosis case, the treatment for the wrong condition not only fails to resolve the condition, but it may have negative side effects that affect your quality of life.
  • Permanent disability. In such cases, a diagnostic error is the cause of a patient's permanent disability. This occurs in half of all serious harm diagnostic errors.

What If the Misdiagnosis Resulted from a Faulty Diagnostic Test?

The accuracy of diagnosis often depends on accurate diagnostic tests. If the diagnostic error occurred because of a faulty test, then several parties could be held liable. If the provider who performed the test, such as the pathologist, failed to meet the standard of care in performing the test, then that provider could be held liable. Other potentially liable parties include:

  • Supervising providers. Some examples may be radiologists in the case of an MRI or a gastroenterologist in the case of a colonoscopy.
  • The provider that ordered the test. The provider who ordered the test could be liable if that provider should have known that the test results were inaccurate. For example, if the test results do not make sense in light of the patient's symptoms or other tests, then the provider might have had a reason to doubt the faulty test results.
  • Technologists or technicians performing the test, such as a radiology technician working with x-rays or the medical technologist performing pathology tests.
  • The manufacturer of the equipment.
  • The maintenance personnel or company who was responsible for maintaining the equipment.

A Medical Malpractice Lawyer May Be Able To Help

If you've suffered an injury due to a medical diagnostic error, then contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at McEldrew Purtell for help right away.