Medical Misdiagnosis: When Does It Count as Malpractice?

While misdiagnoses are rare events, they make up a substantial portion of medical malpractice cases. A misdiagnosis can occur when you're never correctly diagnosed, you're diagnosed too late or you're diagnosed with the wrong condition. Doctors use a combination of clinical findings, medical imaging, and lab tests to find the correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, this process sometimes fails to find it.

A misdiagnosis can result in unnecessary medical treatments or injury. If you think you may have been misdiagnosed, read on to learn the three components of when it counts as malpractice.

1. The Doctor Was Negligent When Diagnosing You

All medical malpractice lawsuits, misdiagnoses included, hinge around proving that the doctor was professionally negligent when providing care. Negligence occurs when a doctor doesn't provide care that a reasonably competent doctor with the same education and experience would have provided. In a medical malpractice case for a misdiagnosis, your healthcare attorney will be trying to prove that a competent doctor with the same education would not have misdiagnosed you.

In addition, doctors are also required to follow medical standards of care. Patients who come to the emergency department complaining of chest pains, for example, should have their troponin levels tested in order to rule out a heart attack being the cause of their chest pains. If lab tests are never done and a heart attack goes unnoticed, then this can potentially be a medical malpractice case for a misdiagnosis.

2. You Suffer Injury as a Result of Your Misdiagnosis

In order to qualify as medical malpractice, your misdiagnosis needs to result in some form of injury. This could involve being unnecessarily treated for a condition you don't have. It can also happen when you're diagnosed too late. If treatment is delayed and your disease worsens, then you may also have a potential medical malpractice case. Harmless misdiagnoses do exist. If the treatment plan for the correct diagnosis is the same as your misdiagnosis, then it doesn't qualify as medical malpractice. For example, this can happen if an oncologist stages your cancer incorrectly—if you're treated the same regardless of stage, then the incorrect staging was harmless.

3. Your Injury Leads to Damage, Either Physical, Financial, or Emotional

Finally, the injury you received from the misdiagnosis needs to have caused some form of damage to you. This damage can be financial. For example, you may miss work for unnecessary treatments due to a misdiagnosis. The medical bills for unnecessary treatments are also considered to be damages. Non-financial damages can result from a misdiagnosis as well. If you became disabled because your disease was diagnosed too late, then you may have a case for medical malpractice. An impaired quality of life is also a form of damage that can be caused by a misdiagnosis.

If you think that you were misdiagnosed by a doctor, it's important to contact a healthcare attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will listen to your description of events and help you collect medical records that shed light on the extent of your injury.