In certain circumstances, a doctor’s failure to properly diagnose a patient’s condition may constitute medical malpractice when that failure causes additional injury to the patient. The doctor’s failure to diagnose the condition correctly must also have been the result of negligence to support a legal claim for medical malpractice.
What Is a Failure-to-Diagnose?
A failure-to-diagnose case occurs when a doctor’s treatment of a patient fails to meet the standard of care applicable to doctors in similar circumstances, which causes the doctor to incorrectly diagnose a patient’s condition or as a result of a delay in diagnosing the correct condition. In short, both a misdiagnosis (incorrectly diagnosing the condition) or a delay in correctly diagnosing the condition can form the basis of a failure-to-diagnose case. Failure to diagnose cases can occur in many circumstances, such as:
- Failing to include serious or life-threatening medical conditions in the doctor’s differential diagnosis
- Failing to conduct appropriate tests, radiology studies or lab work to confirm or exclude if a serious condition exists
- Misinterpreting the results of a tests, radiology studies or lab work
- Failing to recognize the urgency of a patient’s condition, thereby delaying the diagnosis
- Misinterpreting information and symptoms resulting in the doctor misdiagnosing the patient’s condition, illness, or injury
A failure-to-diagnose might not give rise to a legal claim if the doctor performed according to the applicable standard of care. Unfortunately, some conditions are difficult to diagnose and even the best physicians in the world would also fail to diagnose the patient under similar circumstances.
Determining Whether a Failure-to-Diagnose Constitutes Malpractice
In order to have a viable legal claim, it must be established that a doctor’s failure to diagnose a patient constituted medical malpractice. This means proving that the doctor’s treatment and diagnostic process was negligent in some fashion. If it cannot be shown that the doctor acted negligently in treating and diagnosing a patient, then even though the failure-to-diagnose may have resulted in a tragic outcome, the doctor does not have legal liability to the patient or his or family.
Thus, to succeed on a legal claim for failure-to-diagnose, a claimant must establish the four elements of negligence in medical malpractice.
The Elements of Negligence in Medical Malpractice
A medical malpractice claim must establish four elements, which are:
- Duty: Also known as the standard of care, duty in the medical malpractice context typically involves defining what a reasonable doctor would have done under similar circumstances. As for failure-to-diagnose claims, this often involves asking whether another reasonable physician would have, for example, ordered a certain test, would have interpreted the patient’s test results differently leading to the correct diagnosis, or would have included certain conditions in the differential diagnosis
- Breach: Breach of the duty or standard of care requires proving that the doctor did not act as a reasonable doctor would have under similar circumstances
- Causation: Even if a doctor breached the standard of care, negligence also requires proving that the breach directly and proximately caused the patient’s injury. Direct causation involves proving that the patient’s injury would not have occurred “but for” the doctor’s failure to diagnose the patient’s condition correctly or more timely. Proximate causation involves proving that there was not another superseding, intervening cause that was more responsible for the patient’s injury
- Damages: Finally, the claim requires proving that the patient’s injury caused him or her to suffer some form of damage, which could take the form of additional medical expenses or pain and suffering that would not have been incurred had the patient been correctly or timely diagnosed
Contact a Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your Failure-to-Diagnose Case in Pennsylvania
Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Pittsburgh failure-to-diagnose attorneys at Matzus Law LLC are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists throughout Pennsylvania, including Butler, Cranberry Township, Greensburg, and Washington. Call us today at (412) 206-5300 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is located at 310 Grant St., #3210, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.