You don’t know what’s wrong with you at first. You just know the symptoms. You have an elevated heart rate, frequent headaches and a persistent sense of fatigue even when you get a good night’s rest or finish a big cup of coffee.
There are actually a surprising number of medical conditions that present overlapping symptoms. There could be many different diseases that are the underlying cause of such generic symptoms. You depend on your doctor to use their education and the resources available to them, such as diagnostic testing, to determine the true cause of your symptoms.
Unfortunately for patients dependent on the expertise of medical physicians, diagnostic errors are very likely the most common form of medical malpractice.
There are millions of diagnostic errors every year
It is all but impossible for researchers to determine the exact number of failed diagnoses and diagnostic mistakes that occur. Doctors don’t always discover their own mistakes and may not make proper annotations in patient files.
However, researchers estimate that roughly 12 million medical patients in the United States each year experience some kind of diagnostic mistake. In a small percentage of those cases, the consequences will be severe. Between 40,000 and 80,000 deaths every year will be the direct result of the diagnostic mistake. Patients either don’t get the treatment they need quickly enough or they undergo the wrong treatment, which can be medically devastating.
What are your rights after a diagnostic mistake?
If you were the patient who a doctor failed to diagnose, you could potentially use the accurate diagnosis that you later received to initiate a medical malpractice claim against the physician that you initially saw or the facility that employs them.
On the other hand, if you are the surviving family member of someone who recently died, and an autopsy determines that the cause of death was an illness a doctor should have diagnosed but did not, you could bring a medical malpractice claim related to your loved one’s wrongful death.
Often, individual medical practitioners and the facilities that employ them carry special malpractice insurance for exactly the situation. Occasionally, diagnostic failure malpractice claims will end up going to court. Provided that a reasonable professional in the same field would have ordered different testing or reached another conclusion, you may have a chance of securing compensation for litigation.
Taking action when diagnostic mistakes or other medical malpractice affects you or a family member can compensate you and hopefully change the practices of the professional or facility that made a mistake.