If your doctor failed to recognize signs of a more serious medical situation and it was not discovered until later, you may be a victim of delayed diagnosis malpractice. A delayed diagnosis can be very serious, especially for cancer or other serious diseases. If a doctor made a mistake that delayed diagnosis or treatment, causing unnecessary harm, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the doctor for medical malpractice.
What is a Delayed Diagnosis?
A delayed diagnosis generally involves symptoms, signs, complaints, and test results that should have alerted a reasonable doctor that there was a condition to diagnose but the doctor failed to recognize it at the time. A delayed diagnosis that causes injury or harm can be a type of medical malpractice.
Doctors are tasked with evaluating a patient’s symptoms, complaints, and medical history to make a diagnosis. The diagnosis provides the basis for further care and treatment. For example, if a patient goes to the doctor complaining of a sore throat, cough, and runny nose, the doctor may be able to do a brief exam and diagnose the patient with the common cold. Treatment generally involves staying warm and hydrated and getting plenty of rest.
Other medical conditions and diseases can be much more difficult to diagnose. A doctor may need to perform a number of tests, including getting blood tests, testing tissue samples, getting an X-ray, or doing an MRI. Doctors are trained in diagnosing patients and go through years of schooling, training, and clinical work to be able to diagnose a patient. If the doctor cannot make a diagnosis, they may continue to evaluate the patient or refer the patient to a specialist.
If the doctor makes the wrong diagnosis or fails to recognize the signs of a more serious condition, it can cause serious concern for the patient. A delayed diagnosis may mean the patient is sent home without the care or treatment they need. The disease could continue to get worse, causing pain, injury, and reducing the number of treatment options. By the time the patient is properly diagnosed, valuable time has already been lost.
Common Types of Delayed Diagnosis
Some types of illnesses, medical conditions, and diseases can be more difficult to diagnose. The signs and symptoms of the disease may be very similar to another condition, leading to a misdiagnosis. Different conditions can also present differently in different patients, leading the doctor to ignore the true diagnosis because it is not a typical case.
The Big 3 in Diagnostic Errors
Researchers with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore evaluated data from diagnostic error records and identified 15 conditions in three areas that account for almost half of all serious, misdiagnosis-related injuries. Termed the “Big Three,” diagnostic errors leading to death or serious, permanent disability included:
- Misdiagnosed cancer (37.8%)
- Vascular events (22.8%)
- Infections (13.5%)
The top conditions in each of the three categories include:
- Lung cancer
- Heart attack
- Venous thromboembolism
- Aortic aneurysm and dissection
- Arterial thromboembolism
- Meningitis and encephalitis
- Spinal infection
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer.
Delayed Cancer Diagnosis
A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for patients and their families. However, early diagnosis can be key to improved outcomes and may provide more treatment options. Delayed cancer diagnosis can allow cancer to grow and metastasize, which could make it more difficult to treat, increase the risk of death, and cause unnecessary damage and pain. Some types of cancer can be more difficult to identify.
Delayed Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Lung cancer has a higher rate of fatality than many other cancers and accounts for about 27% of all cancer-related deaths. The most common way to diagnose lung cancer is through a chest x-ray that can detect tumors or masses in the lungs. Computerized tomography (CT) can also be used to develop an image of the lungs and a biopsy of tissue samples from the lungs can also detect cancer. Treatment options depend on the stage when the cancer is diagnosed, and can include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
Delayed Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women and can also carry a high fatality rate. A lump in the breast or underarm may give women an indication that they should get checked out by their doctor. Many lumps or masses are benign but suspicious tissue should be examined by a doctor. Doctors may use a mammogram or ultrasound to show an image of the tissue inside the breast. Treatment can include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, and surgery, including a mastectomy.
Delayed Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the U.S. Symptoms can include problems with urination, discomfort, or pain. However, it can develop without any signs or symptoms. Diagnosing prostate cancer often involves a physical exam, known as a digital rectal exam. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that can alert the doctor to possible infections, inflammation, or cancer. A biopsy and imaging tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Delayed Skin Cancer Diagnosis
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. There are several types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Diagnosing skin cancer often begins with screening and a skin examination. If the doctor finds suspicious marks, growths, or abnormalities, they can take a biopsy or order a blood test. Skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more difficult and increasing the risk of serious harm or death.
Delayed Heart Attack Diagnosis
A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the heart, cutting off the blood supply and causing damage to the heart. The blockage can come from a build-up of plaque in the circulatory system. Common signs of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, and breaking out in a cold sweat. However, the signs can be different in women than men, which accounts for the large number of women who have a heart attack and go to the hospital, only to be sent home without the right diagnosis.
Delayed Stroke Diagnosis
A stroke involves a blockage in the blood supply to the brain, depriving the brain of oxygen, causing brain and tissue damage. It only takes a matter of minutes before oxygen deprivation begins to cause permanent damage to brain cells. Symptoms of a stroke are sudden, and can include numbness or weakness in the face or one side of the body; vision changes; confusion or trouble speaking; severe headache without injury or known cause; and dizziness, difficulty walking, or loss of balance. A stroke diagnosis may include taking a full medical history, imaging scans, and blood tests.
Delayed Sepsis Diagnosis
Sepsis involves a serious infection that can lead to septicemia, organ damage, and death. Signs and symptoms of sepsis can appear like other illnesses, with a fever, chills, confusion, and increased breathing rate. Diagnostic tests that can point to possible infections include blood tests for bilirubin levels, platelet counts, and creatinine levels. If sepsis is not diagnosed, it can be fatal.
Delayed Depression Diagnosis
Depression is a serious condition for millions of Americans. Like many other mental health conditions, it is misunderstood and underreported. Consequences of undiagnosed and untreated depression could include self-harm, self-destructive life habits, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Unfortunately, some doctors still fail to diagnose depression, leaving the patients suffering unnecessary harm.
Delayed Lyme Disease Diagnosis
Lyme disease is a serious condition that is often spread through the bite of an infected tick. Depending on where the tick bite occurred, the victim of the bite may be unaware of the spread of the infection. Symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, and a ring-like skin rash. If not diagnosed or treated, it can spread throughout the body and delay the recovery time. Proper lab testing is the most common way to diagnose and identify Lyme disease.
Delayed Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosis
A pulmonary embolism (PE) involves blockage of the blood supply to the lungs, cutting off oxygen to the rest of the body. The most common cause of PE is deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT occurs when a blood clot forms somewhere in the body, then breaks loose, traveling through the circulatory system until it gets to the lungs, blocking blood flow. Signs of a possible PE include shortness of breath, chest or back pain, and a rapid pulse. If not diagnosed in time, a pulmonary embolism can be fatal.
Delayed Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and nervous system. There are many well-known figures who live with Parkinson’s disease, including Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed in his 30s. There is no current cure for Parkinson’s but proper diagnosis can improve patient care with treatment options to help manage the disease.
Delayed Fibromyalgia Diagnosis
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes people to suffer body-wide pain, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and depression. Women are more likely than men to suffer fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia often occurs with other conditions, like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome. It can be difficult to identify fibromyalgia but proper diagnosis can help control the symptoms.
Delayed Celiac Disease Diagnosis
Celiac disease is another commonly misdiagnosed or delayed diagnosed condition where the immune system response to gluten proteins can cause intestinal problems, joint pain, migraine, and fatigue. Celiac disease can be diagnosed at any time in a person’s life and can develop over time. Celiac disease is permanent but early diagnosis can help with treatment and management of the disease.
Delayed Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be misdiagnosed or even fraudulently diagnosed. Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord, where the immune system attacks the protective layers around nerve fibers. Symptoms can include difficulty walking and other nerve damage injuries. There is no current cure for MS but proper diagnosis can improve treatment and quality of life for people suffering from the disease.
How Do I Know If the Disease Should Have Been Discovered Earlier?
You do not have to be 100% sure the delayed diagnosis was the cause of your injuries. However, if you were reporting symptoms and complaints that could have indicated the serious condition that was discovered later, it may have been because your doctor was negligent in failing to identify the disease or failure to get a referral. Talk to a medical malpractice lawyer to help you understand whether you might have a claim for damages.
Do I Need to Sue for Delayed Diagnosis?
Many victims of a delayed diagnosis never take their case to court. They may feel like it is too late or that they are not sure that it was because of negligence. There are important reasons to file a malpractice claim if you were the victim of medical negligence. Aside from financial damages for your medical bills and lost income, a malpractice lawsuit can help improve care for others.
If a doctor makes a mistake and is never held accountable, they may go on committing similar mistakes harming other patients. When an injury victim files a lawsuit, the doctor, hospital, and other care providers will pay attention. This can lead to changes in care to reduce the risk of similar accidents, which could help others avoid unnecessary pain or loss of a loved one.
In addition to improving care, a malpractice claim may be your only chance to recover compensation for your injuries. This includes economic damages for your costs and future care, including medical treatment, loss of income, and loss of earning potential. If you suffered unnecessary pain or suffering caused by the delayed diagnosis, you can also get an award for non-economic damages. Talk to a medical malpractice attorney about the damages available in your case.
Next Steps in a Delayed Diagnosis Injury Claim
If you suspect you may have been misdiagnosed or the doctor missed clear warning signs of a more serious condition, talk to a medical malpractice attorney for advice. An experienced medical accident lawyer can review your case and let you know what options you have for recovery. There is a limited amount of time to file a medical malpractice claim, so make sure you take your injury seriously and contact an attorney as soon as possible. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.