Is a delayed diagnosis my doctor’s fault?

Diagnostic errors could cause serious and even fatal consequences for people in Maryland.

Over even the last few decades, the medical community has made great strides in research, prevention and treatment. People in Maryland who suffer an illness or an injury may have access to some of the most cutting-edge tools and medications available.

However, even with all this progress, mistakes still happen. Human error and outright negligence play a significant role in the reason why many people end up in worse situations instead of improved ones. Here, we take a look at diagnostic errors - what they are, why they happen and what to do if you experience one.

Defining a diagnostic error

There are several ways in which a medical professional could commit a diagnostic error, such as the following:

  • Failing to diagnose a patient
  • Making a delayed diagnosis
  • Diagnosing a patient with the wrong condition

Any of these situations could be dangerous and even deadly. Consider a patient who has cancer, but a physician fails to order testing in a timely manner that would have diagnosed the condition. Eventually, the cancer is diagnosed, but the doctor waited so long to make the diagnosis that the cancer has spread to fatal levels. Had the physician acted under the standard of care, perhaps the patient would have received life-saving treatment.

How they occur

Unfortunately, these mistakes happen all too often. For example, according to a study published with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, diagnostic mistakes were responsible for as much as 17 percent of incidents that could have been prevented among hospitalized patients. The AHRQ also reports that roughly 9 percent of patients whose bodies were autopsied for a study had experienced a diagnostic mistake.

These errors could happen for a number of reasons. For example, a physician may have seen 20 patients all with the similar symptoms. Once the first 10 or so were diagnosed with the same illness, that doctor may be more inclined to diagnose the rest with that illness.

Physician bias could also show up if there are certain factors present. Take a drug addict who comes into a hospital experiencing stomach pain. A doctor who knows the patient has a substance abuse issue could write it off as withdrawal when it could be an entirely unrelated condition.

Delayed diagnoses could arise from a failure to order testing or from false test results. There may also be a breakdown in communication among specialists who are all working with the same patient.

Taking action

For medical malpractice claims in Maryland, the plaintiff must show that the physician or other defendants strayed from the standard of care, and that the deviation caused the harm the patient suffered. In order to hold the negligent party or parties responsible, the claim must be filed by the earlier of either three years from the date the injury was discovered or five years from the time the injury occurred.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Maryland.