When I worked in hospitals, it was interesting to translate medical Spanish for doctors trying to decide on a diagnosis. I got a peek into the decision tree in their mind with a series of yes, no questions. Once certain body trends like blood sugar imbalance or infection were suspected as a possible cause of the symptoms then tests could be ordered to verify which of these was important.
Through this process, I came to the understanding that doctors have different styles for figuring out this puzzle just as detectives working a criminal investigation use the various clues and facts to arrive at a conclusion. Some conditions require the use of inductive reasoning, here a more general diagnosis is likely accurate. It’s a quicker and simpler process because only a general trend and confirmation this trend is accurate is needed. An example of this would be Colitis.
Once a patient has more crisis symptoms or urgent symptoms then the accuracy of this process as well as speed becomes crucial to save a life or relieve intense suffering. If a patient has stomach pain, but is bent over the pain is so bad and it came on suddenly then other more serious diagnosis must be ruled out or death may occur. An example of this is did the patient suffer a burst pancreas or is there another cause to the sudden severe pain such as infection or injury?
So if you or a loved one have been harmed by slow or inaccurate diagnosis, it’s a good first step to consider did the doctor fail to perform the standard of care. Through careful analysis of medical records and in some cases by interviewing staff who treated the patient, lawyers in these types of cases try to determine if the doctor’s failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis was a direct or indirect cause of injury or preventable death.
Whether the doctor lived up to the standard of care will likely require an expert opinion. One of the issues the expert will examine is the defendant doctor’s differential diagnosis method. When trying to diagnose a patient, a doctor makes a list of diagnoses in order of probability and tests them by asking the patient questions, making further observations of the patient, or ordering tests. The goal is to rule out diagnoses until there is only one diagnosis remaining. However, in many instances, a doctor learns more information that requires him or her to supplement the list with other potential diagnoses.
A patient trying to prove misdiagnosis must show that a doctor in the same or similar specialty would not have misdiagnosed the illness or injury. The plaintiff will have to show that the doctor did not include the correct diagnosis on the list and that a competent doctor would have included it. Alternatively, the plaintiff must show that the doctor listed the correct diagnosis but did not perform the right tests to arrive at the correct diagnosis by the end of the differential diagnosis method.
Another reason that misdiagnosis happens is a faulty lab result or test. Errors in test results can happen because of flawed equipment or human error. In some cases, a technician who administers the test inappropriately, or a secondary doctor who misreads a scan, resulting in a doctor making an incorrect diagnosis, can be held liable. If the hospital staff makes a mistake, the hospital can be held directly liable.
Causation can be the most challenging element for plaintiffs to prove in a failure to diagnose cases. A plaintiff must prove that the misdiagnosis caused the injury to worsen more than it would have had a correct diagnosis been made. This means, for example, that a plaintiff will need to show that a delayed cancer diagnosis resulted in the patient’s wrongful death, whereas the patient would have lived longer if it had been caught at the right time by the defendant. For example, a homeless person who comes to the emergency room asking for pain medication may be taken less seriously than an ordinary person who comes in wearing clean clothes and complaining of stomach pains. This may result in a missed diagnosis of appendicitis regarding the homeless person.
In most states, first responders in a medical emergency situation (such as an EMT or a firefighter) are protected from lawsuits unless the first responder does something reckless or intentional. This protection for first responders does not apply to emergency rooms in hospitals, although in some states an emergency room doctor must act with gross negligence to be held liable for harm that occurs before the patient is stabilized.
Many doctors are not employees of the hospital, and in general a hospital cannot be held vicariously liable for a non-employee’s negligence. However, when a patient goes to the emergency room, the hospital cannot tell the patient what a doctor’s employment status is. Therefore, hospitals may be held liable for an emergency room doctor’s medical malpractice. If you are unsure if your case is worth filing, call a skilled lawyer, like a medical malpractice attorney Chicago IL relies on, today.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Law Offices of Konrad Sherinian for their insight into infant safety in car seats.