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Misdiagnosis vs. Missed Diagnosis

woman wearing a hospital gown sitting on an observation table next to a female doctor holding a clipboard

When it comes to the world of medical malpractice, the terms misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis often create confusion, as they are used interchangeably. However, these terms have distinct meanings and implications for patients and medical professionals involved in a malpractice claim. This blog post aims to define misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis, discuss why each can significantly endanger a patient, and explore the legal implications surrounding these issues for both lawyers and potential legal clients.

Defining Misdiagnosis and Missed Diagnosis

In simplest terms, misdiagnosis refers to the process of diagnosing a patient with a different medical condition than the one they actually have. This could mean diagnosing a patient with cancer when they have a benign tumor or attributing a patient's symptoms to stress when they are, in fact, experiencing a heart attack. On the other hand, missed diagnosis refers to instances when a medical professional fails to diagnose a patient's condition altogether, despite the presence of clear symptoms or adequate information that would lead to the correct diagnosis.

The Consequences

Both misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis can have severe consequences for patients. In the case of misdiagnosis, a patient may receive treatment for a condition they do not have, which in turn could lead to unnecessary procedures or side effects from medications. Sometimes, treating the wrong illness may exacerbate the patient's condition. With missed diagnosis, a healthcare professional's failure to identify a condition often delays necessary treatment. This delay can result in the worsening of the patient's condition, increased suffering, and even death in severe cases.

Pursuing a Claim for These Errors

When it comes to medical malpractice claims, proving either misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis can be a complicated process. To be successful in a claim, the plaintiff must first establish that a doctor-patient relationship existed at the time of the diagnostic error. This could include physical examinations, consultations, and records of medical treatment.

Next, the plaintiff must prove that the healthcare professional did not exercise the appropriate standard of care while diagnosing the patient. In other words, they must demonstrate that the healthcare professional's conduct fell below the level of care that a reasonably competent professional in a similar situation would have provided. This often involves comparing the defendant's actions with those of their peers and might require expert testimony from other medical professionals to attest to the appropriate standard of care.

Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis directly caused harm to the patient. Generally, this requires demonstrating that the patient's condition would have improved, or at least not worsened, had they received the proper diagnosis and treatment in a timely manner. Establishing causation can sometimes be challenging, as multiple factors might contribute to the patient's illness or injury. In such instances, the plaintiff must be able to show that the healthcare professional's negligence was a significant factor that led to the harm suffered by the patient.

Why These Constitute Medical Malpractice

From a legal perspective, misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis claims often fall under the broader umbrella of medical malpractice or negligence. However, there are some distinctions between the two types of diagnostic errors. For instance, a missed diagnosis claim typically involves proving that the healthcare professional failed to conduct adequate tests, appropriately interpret test results, or recognize tell-tale symptoms. In contrast, a misdiagnosis case usually focuses on the medical professional incorrectly interpreting test results or overlooking specific symptoms due to negligence or incompetence. Understanding and proving these differences is crucial to the success of any medical malpractice case involving diagnostic errors.

North Dakota Medical Malpractice Attorneys

Our team at Maring Williams Law Office has extensive experience handling complex medical malpractice claims. With offices in Fargo and Bismarck, ND, and Detroit Lakes, MN, we thoroughly understand the legal world and have the knowledge and resources to pursue a successful claim. Call (701) 402-6644 or fill out this short form to request a free consultation today.