Before a doctor can cure an ill patient, a diagnosis of what is wrong must be made. However, if there is a diagnostic error, improper medical treatment can make the patient worse. In cases of delayed diagnosis, the disease or malady can do harm that the patient cannot recover from.
Unfortunately, wrongful diagnoses are common. Patient safety experts at the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality said in a study published in August 2012 that as many as 40,500 critically ill U.S. hospital patients die with an unknown medical condition that may have caused or contributed to their death each year.
Dr. Bradford Winters, the lead author of the Johns Hopkins study, said that if a proper diagnosis had been made in a timely manner, the patients’ treatments might have been changed and their lives potentially saved.
In another study published in October 2012, researchers from Brigham & Women’s/Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University found that most patients are discharged from the hospital emergency rooms (ERs) without a pathological diagnosis that explains the likely cause of their symptoms. ER doctors simply repeat patients’ symptoms as a substitute for identifying their probable cause.
If you or a loved one is a victim of a wrongful or delayed medical diagnosis, it’s important to contact a skilled and experienced medical malpractice lawyer immediately to learn about your legal rights and options.
Maladies and Disease Subject to Delayed or Wrongful Diagnosis
The Brigham & Women’s/Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University study involved a chart review of all adult patients who complained of chest pain, abdominal pain, or a headache (the three most common complaints) in an urban emergency room (ER) at a large teaching hospital.
Only 17 percent of those who complained of chest pain, 43 percent with abdominal pain, and 41 percent of patients who had headaches actually received a pathological diagnosis upon discharge from the ER. The rest were sent home with a reiteration of their symptoms.
The Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute determined in its study that 28 percent of patients had at least one missed diagnosis when they died. In 8 percent of patients, the diagnostic error was serious enough that it may have either caused or directly contributed to the individual’s death, researchers said.
More than three-quarters of fatal misdiagnoses the Johns Hopkins researchers found involved infections and vascular maladies, such as heart attack and stroke. Overall, the medical conditions most commonly missed because of diagnostic errors included:
- Heart attack
- Pulmonary embolism
- Artery blockage in the lungs
- Aspergillosis is a fungal infection that most commonly affects individuals with a weakened immune system.
When physicians, nurses, or technicians run tests as a means to diagnose symptoms, the results of the test must be interpreted. This can also lead to missed or delayed diagnosis.
For instance, a 2011 study of mammography used to screen women for breast cancer found that about 30 percent of screenings led to over-diagnosis and over-treatment. Hundreds of women in the study were expected to have experienced “important psychological distress for many months because of false positive findings,” the study found.
The same problems arise when the interpretation of test results indicates there is no problem when, in fact, a disease or threatening medical condition does exist. These findings are known as “false negatives.” False negatives can result in a delayed diagnosis at best. At worst, they can result in no further diagnosis at all as the patient succumbs to the illness.
False positives, false negatives, and other faulty or missed medical diagnoses can lead to decisions that prove harmful to the patient. In some cases, they cause irreversible damage.
Outline of a Missed or Delayed Diagnosis
Mistakes in a medical setting can have a cascading effect. The end result can be an untimely and tragic death. There are many reasons why a missed or delayed diagnosis is made. Any of these diagnostic mistakes alone or in combination could prove harmful or fatal to a patient:
- Poor communication (not clearly inquiring about or listening to a patient’s symptoms).
- Failing to conduct a thorough physical examination of the patient.
- Failing to ask proper questions about the patient’s medical history (such as medications the patient is taking or is allergic to or inquiring about the patient’s possible occupational exposure to chemicals or other toxins).
- Failing to order necessary tests, such as an X-ray, MRI, or blood test.
- Incorrect analysis or understanding of test or lab results.
- Poor communication among medical professionals, particularly between different shifts of nurses and technicians.
- Failing to recognize a disease or malady indicated by the symptoms and/or test results due to the physician’s lack of knowledge or experience or due to negligence.
Crowded conditions or overworked staff are not excuses for diagnostic mistakes or other medical errors. Healthcare professionals have an obligation to manage their time and resources in a manner that ensures they deliver safe and appropriate care. When they fail to do so, medical errors, including wrongful and delayed diagnosis, may be medical malpractice. Those who are harmed have a right to seek money for the injuries and losses they have suffered.
Contact Our Rhode Island Wrongful Diagnosis Lawyers Today
The wrongful diagnosis lawyers of Gemma Law Associates have successfully pursued medical malpractice cases on behalf of injured clients in Providence, Newport, Pawtucket, Warwick, Bristol, Cranston, Woonsocket, and elsewhere in Rhode Island for more than 40 years.
We have a successful record of litigating personal injury and wrongful death claims involving hospital negligence and medical errors, including wrongful and delayed diagnosis. We are experienced in tough negotiations, and we are ready to prepare and present a persuasive court case on your behalf if that is necessary to recover the damages you deserve.
Rhode Island places strict time limits on filing medical malpractice claims, so it’s important to act as soon as you are able if you have been seriously injured by a medical error or have lost a loved one to medical negligence. For a free legal consultation, call our Rhode Island wrongful diagnosis lawyers today toll-free or use our online form.