Wrongful Death: Failure to Diagnose

Preventable medical errors are the third highest cause of death in the United States, right behind cancer and heart disease. In outpatient treatment, 1 out of every 20 patients are misdiagnosed, or 12 million a year. About 100,000 deaths a year are attributable to medical errors, with misdiagnosis accounting for about 30 percent of those.

Studies have indicated that of all malpractice claims, 59 percent involved harmful diagnostic errors.  25% to 59% of malpractice claims are attributable to diagnostic errors, at a cost of $34.5 billion per year in claims payments, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine.

A review of autopsies found that 23.5 percent of errors resulting in death were caused by physicians misdiagnosing a disease. Of all patients as many as 61 percent had experienced a delay in diagnosis, or weren’t even diagnosed.

Physicians are well aware that there’s problem. 54 percent of pediatricians in one survey said they made a diagnostic error every month, while 45 percent admitted to making a diagnosis that harmed a patient on average about once a year.

Misdiagnosis isn’t necessarily malpractice by a patient’s physician. Effective medical treatment relies upon relevant, current clinical information, accurate historical patient histories, and codependent team processes for successful diagnosis and treatment. Faulty information and poor communication can harm the patient of even the most conscientious practitioner.

For a patient or his family to demonstrate that a wrong diagnosis was in fact malpractice requires his or her proving that a doctor with a similar specialty and under circumstances similar to the patient’s would have correctly diagnosed the illness using the differential model of diagnosis.

The differential model of diagnosis

The differential model follows the rules of the scientific method we learned in school. Based upon observation, testing and consultation with patient and colleagues, a doctor draws up a number of potential diagnoses. He or she then examines each of them in light of the evidence, eliminating all but the most likely.

More tests may be called for to prove or disapprove a diagnosis. To demonstrate that a doctor was negligent in his diagnosis, a patient must show that their doctor either omitted the correct diagnosis from the differential diagnosis list, or, including it, failed to seek evidence that it was correct and moved on.

Typically this means failing to order the right lab or radiology tests, or not consulting with colleagues to confirm or discard a diagnosis.

A wrong diagnosis that’s the fault of others or of bad diagnostic equipment frees one’s physician of liability, though a patient can seek to hold the persons or institutions responsible accountable.

Misdiagnosis encompasses not just the primary illness itself but also its complications, if any.  If a doctor correctly diagnoses the illness without correctly identifying its complications, or fails to diagnose a related illness that can be shown to regularly occur with the main disease, he or she can also be held liable for misdiagnosis. Likewise, a doctor can be found negligent for failure to diagnose a co-occurring but unrelated disease.

Lastly but crucially, the patient must have suffered harm as a result of the misdiagnosis: physical, mental, or financial harm being the basic ones.

Get The Help & Resources You Deserve

If you or your passenger has been injured in an accident, lost a loved one as a result of the accident, or if you would like more information about other serious cases contact Boca Raton Wrongful Death Attorneys at Glotzer & Kobren, P.A. at 561-361-8677.