Diagnostic Errors and Medical Malpractice

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have found medical errors to be the third leading cause of death in the United States, ranking just behind heart disease and cancer. With more than 250,000 deaths yearly, medical errors can range from medication and surgical errors to infections and secondary complications. As a result, a patient’s condition can worsen, leaving them in chronic pain or may even result in death.

Many medical malpractice lawsuits are based on errors stemming from the diagnostic stage of treatment. This could be delayed diagnosis, failure to communicate a diagnosis or the misdiagnosis of a medical condition.

These errors can have serious consequences for a patient and may even be fatal. However, a diagnostic error is insufficient to succeed in a medical malpractice lawsuit as certain elements must be established first. If you have suffered due to a medical error, it is worth exploring your legal options by consulting an experienced firm of attorneys such as The Tinker Law Firm PLLC. This article will explore the elements needed to prove medical malpractice for a diagnostic error.

Proving Medical Malpractice

Medical professionals are not held liable under the law for every diagnostic error. To prove medical malpractice, a patient must establish the following three elements applied to their case:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed at the time
  • The doctor’s negligence in performing their duties
  • Patient was injured due to the negligence

What Constitutes Negligence?

A diagnostic error is not in itself evidence of negligence. To establish negligence, it is important to determine whether the doctor acted competently. In cases of diagnostic error, an analysis of the “differential diagnosis” method used by the doctor will be undertaken to assess whether a reasonably competent doctor would have made the same determination.

Differential diagnosis is a system that doctors use to identify a disease or condition by listing all of the possible diagnoses. The doctor will then conduct tests and make further medical observations to assess the probability of each diagnosis until a definitive one remains.

However, in a medical malpractice case, the burden of proof is on the patient to prove that the actions or inaction of a reasonably competent doctor (practising in a similar field and under the same circumstances) would not have resulted in a diagnostic error. Essentially, this requires the patient to prove either:

  • The doctor failed to list the correct diagnosis as part of the differential diagnosis method, and a reasonably competent doctor practising under the same or similar circumstances would have
  • The doctor did include the correct diagnosis during the differential diagnosis stage but failed to conduct the necessary tests or seek advice or opinions from specialists to verify the strength of their diagnosis.

Ultimately, determining whether a medical professional acted negligently will usually involve evaluating their actions or inactions through expert testimony and reports.

If the above elements can be established in your case, you have stronger grounds for succeeding in a medical malpractice claim for diagnostic error.

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