It’s important to have faith in our medical professionals. However, when a doctor makes the wrong diagnosis, takes too long to make a diagnosis, or misses a diagnosis altogether, that trust begins to decline. So when is a diagnostic error considered medical malpractice and how should victims of these errors proceed when they happen?

diagnostic error, image of doctor lookin at mri scan of patient brain

In This Article: 

What is a Diagnostic Error

A diagnostic error refers to the occurrence of a missed, incorrect, or delayed diagnosis, which becomes apparent when a subsequent definitive test or finding is performed. It encompasses situations where the initial diagnosis fails to identify an existing condition or when treatment is administered for a condition that is not actually present. The resulting harm arises from the delay or absence of appropriate treatment, which could have been provided had the correct diagnosis been made or known.

Measuring and tracking such errors is challenging as there is often a considerable time gap between when the error occurs and when it is detected. Unlike medical and surgical errors, which are more immediately apparent, diagnostic errors can go unnoticed for extended periods. As a result, patient safety can be negatively impacted. This can cause issues such as:

  • delayed or inappropriate treatment.
  • exacerbation of the underlying condition.
  • the development of additional complications.

Diagnostic Error Statistics

Diagnostic errors represent a significant issue in healthcare. With over 250,000 Americans a year who experience diagnostic errors within hospital settings, these errors are a common type of medical malpractice. Research indicates that 22% of medical malpractice cases are related to diagnostic errors.

These errors have profound consequences, leading to a substantial number of deaths and patient harm each year. According to Johns Hopkins University, diagnostic errors contribute to an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 deaths annually in the United States. This staggering number highlights the seriousness of the problem and emphasizes the need for effective measures to address diagnostic accuracy. 

Types of Diagnostic Error

There are three types of diagnostic errors that can occur: delayed diagnosis, wrong diagnosis, and misdiagnosis.

Delayed Diagnosis

Delayed diagnosis occurs when there is a significant delay in identifying or confirming a patient’s condition. This delay can result from a variety of factors, such as inadequate follow-up tests or consultations, misinterpretation of symptoms, or a lack of timely action by healthcare providers. The consequences of delayed diagnosis can be severe, as the condition may progress and worsen during the time lost in reaching an accurate diagnosis. This can lead to delayed treatment, increased morbidity, and even mortality.

Wrong Diagnosis

Wrong diagnosis refers to a situation where the initial diagnosis is incorrect or inaccurate. It can stem from a variety of factors, including misinterpretation of clinical information, inadequate knowledge or experience, biases, or errors in diagnostic reasoning. A wrong diagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment or interventions that may harm the patient, as well as the missed opportunity to address the actual underlying condition. It can result in unnecessary tests, procedures, and potential complications, while the true condition remains untreated or improperly managed.

Missed Diagnosis

Missed diagnosis occurs when a healthcare provider fails to identify a condition altogether, overlooking the presence of a disease or condition despite the availability of relevant information. This may happen due to various reasons, such as atypical or subtle symptoms, overlapping or ambiguous clinical presentations, errors in data collection or interpretation, or inadequate consideration of alternative diagnoses. A missed diagnosis can lead to significant patient harm, as the absence of a timely and accurate diagnosis deprives the patient of necessary treatment and management, potentially allowing the condition to progress unchecked.

When a Diagnostic Error is Medical Malpractice

Determining when a diagnostic error constitutes medical malpractice depends on several factors. 

  1. Negligence. If an error in diagnosing your condition occurred due to your doctor or healthcare provider’s negligent act or omission (failure to act), then it’s possible the error is considered medical malpractice. 
  2. Caused injury or harm. If a diagnosis error did not cause harm or injury, there can be no medical malpractice claim. There must be a causal link between the error and the resulting harm or injury suffered by the patient. 
  3. Breach of standard of care. Once a doctor-patient relationship is established, the healthcare provider must perform their duties at the expected standard of care. In other words, they must have acted as any other professional in their field would have in similar situations. 

Ultimately, determining whether a diagnostic error constitutes medical malpractice requires a careful evaluation of the specific circumstances. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Illinois should be consulted to assess the situation and determine if there are grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Contact a Lawyer About a Diagnostic Error

Diagnostic errors can be harmful, stressful, and expensive. If you have suffered the consequences of receiving a delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or wrong diagnosis, our medical malpractice lawyers can help. At Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers, we have the expertise to fight for the compensation you may be owed. 

Reporting these types of catastrophic errors can not only help you but also help others. Speaking up about your experience can help prevent this type of negligence from harming anyone else. For a FREE consultation, call us today at (312) 600-6000. Find out why so many say… Larry wins!