Missed, delayed or wrong diagnosis put patients’ health at grave risk

Diagnostic errors, such as missed, wrong or delayed diagnoses, are generally preventable but occur all too frequently leading to patient injuries.

A recent article appearing in U.S. News and World Report notes that a new study shows that the early signs and symptoms of strokes are often missed by emergency room doctors. The study conducted by Johns Hopkins University reveals that about half of those misdiagnosed were hospitalized with a stroke within seven days thereafter. More than half of the strokes ended up occurring within 48 hours of misdiagnosis. The Advisory Board Consultants finds that diagnostic errors, rather than surgical or medication errors, are the leading cause of successful medical malpractice claims.

Diagnostic errors are defined as missed, wrong or delayed diagnoses. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that primary care physicians make a significant number of diagnostic errors with regard to a variety of ailments. The ailments most often misdiagnosed are pneumonia, congestive heart failure, cancer and kidney failure. Many of these diagnostic mistakes could easily cause moderate to severe personal injury to patients.

Diagnostic errors can be caused by a variety of factors. At times, there is a failure of communication between the doctor and the patient. In some instances, the doctor hears the patient's complaint but assumes it is nothing serious and fails to follow-up. Sometimes, physicians do not correctly interpret the diagnostic tests that were run nor take the time to consult with colleagues. The end result is often the same in that diagnostic errors result in injury to patients and sometimes death.

A missed and delayed diagnosis

The 2014 Georgia Court of Appeals decision rendered in Moore v. Singh is illustrative of a missed-diagnosis case. There, an action for medical malpractice was brought against a nephrologist on the ground that the doctor failed to diagnose a leg fracture. The patient, who was hospitalized for diabetes, complained about severe and continuing leg pain. A physical therapist also concluded that the patient was suffering from pain in her leg. The doctor did not order x-rays, a CT scan or an MRI. There was no follow-up of any kind.

Two months later, a different doctor found that the tibia was fractured. As the leg had not healed properly, surgery was needed to correct the condition. The patient's expert witnesses testified that the medical standard of care demanded that the doctor follow-up on the complaints of leg pain. Further, they testified that if the fracture had been properly diagnosed by the treating physician, painful surgery would not have been necessary.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court granted a verdict without a trial in favor of the doctor on the ground that no reasonable jury could reach a different conclusion. The Georgia appellate court disagreed. The court stated that in medical malpractice cases the injured patient must show a violation of the medical standard of care owed the patient and that the deviation from that standard of care caused the patient's injury. In the case before it, the court found that there was sufficient evidence that the doctor breached the duty of care that she owed to the patient. The lower court judgment in favor of the doctor was reversed.

Seeking legal counsel

Medical malpractice cases are typically complicated. If you have reason to believe that an injury was sustained by yourself or a loved one due to a diagnostic error, you need to contact an attorney experienced at handling Georgia medical malpractice cases. The attorney will sit down with you and discuss the facts in order to determine whether you may have a viable claim for compensation.

Keywords: diagnostic errors, medical malpractice