A large number of medical negligence claims in the UK are a result of diagnostic errors. When a healthcare professional’s diagnosis leads to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or death, it can have a devastating impact on the patient and their loved ones. However, diagnostic errors do not automatically qualify as medical negligence. Instead, a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis must be avoidable before it becomes negligent treatment.
What is Medical Misdiagnosis?
Misdiagnosis occurs when a healthcare professional incorrectly diagnoses a medical condition. If the incorrect diagnosis causes harm to the patient, there may be grounds for a medical negligence claim.
When misdiagnosis occurs, a patient will receive medical care for an injury or illness they do not have. In this case, the patient may undergo unnecessary and expensive medical procedures, causing further pain and suffering, and possibly leading to a decline in the overall health of the patient. Misdiagnosis can also lead to death, especially if the patient never received proper treatment for the illness or injury they suffered.
For instance, Olivia complains of heartburn-like symptoms. Rather than perform the required tests (such as endoscopy and blood work), the physician simply prescribes antacids, watering down the patient’s complaints that the medication is not effective. A few months down the line, the patient dies and autopsy reveals that the patient suffered gastrointestinal cancer. The doctor’s negligence and failure to perform necessary tests has led to the death of the patient. In this case, the family members have grounds for a misdiagnosis claim.
What is Delayed Diagnosis?
Delayed diagnosis occurs when the medical practitioner eventually gives the right diagnosis, but only after significant delay. In the interim, however, the patient will likely have received unnecessary delay treatment, suffered pain, suffering and incurred medical costs. Most victims of delayed diagnosis hardly realize they have grounds for a medical negligence claim since their doctor eventually gives the correct diagnosis.
Delayed diagnosis can negatively impact the overall health of the patient, and even lead to death. Using the example of Olivia as stated above, the medical professional eventually diagnoses her with cancer. However, by the time this diagnosis is made, the cancer has spread, causing the patient to undergo a painful and costly treatment process, before passing away. Some of the most common examples of delayed diagnosis include:
- Minimizing patient symptoms
- Failing to monitor vital changes
- Failing to refer patient for tests
- Failing to consider differential diagnosis
- Failing to carefully listen to a patient’s complaint
- Performing a procedure before considering contraindications
For your delayed diagnosis claim to be valid, that delay must have had a negative impact on the health of the patient and be a result of negligent treatment.
Proving Medical Negligence Due to Diagnostic Errors
The UK medical negligence law does not hold medical practitioners responsible for all errors in diagnosis. Instead, patients are expected to prove three things in order to establish medical negligence based on diagnostic error:
- Existence of a doctor-patient relationship
- Medical practitioner was negligent
- The negligence directly caused the patient’s injury
The vast majority of medical negligence claims hinge on either the second or third element (or both).
Was your Medical Professional Negligent?
A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is, in itself, not proof of negligence. The best medical professionals can make diagnostic errors even when they apply reasonable care. The key to establishing negligence will be determining whether the doctor acted in a competent manner, which involves evaluating what the doctor did (or did not do) in reaching a diagnosis. This means considering the differential diagnosis method the doctor employed when determining treatment procedures.
Diagnostic Test Errors
Sometimes a doctor may fail to provide the correct diagnosis because they relied on wrong laboratory test results. An inaccurate test result can happen if:
- There was a faulty diagnostic equipment
- There was human error. For instance, samples may have been mixed up or contaminated, the lab technician may have used an incorrect procedure, or test results may have been misinterpreted.
Although the doctor may not be responsible for the medical negligence in this case, the technician may be liable. Still, you – as the patient – are under obligation to prove that the error was due to negligence.
Did the Diagnostic Error Cause the Patient Harm?
As the patient, you must also prove that the doctor’s delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis caused the patient’s injury or worsened an existing condition – and had a negative impact on the treatment. You should be able to show that things would have been different had the correct diagnosis been promptly made.
For instance, due to a delayed diagnosis of cancer, a patient had to undergo treatment procedures with severe adverse effects (such as chemotherapy) or the patient died because the cancer was unresponsive to treatment. Sometimes it may be possible to show harm even if the condition can be treated. For example, delayed treatment can increase the risk of recurrence of some cancers.
In cases where a doctor diagnoses a patient with a different condition from the one they have, the patient may be able to prove harm if they have suffered stress, anxiety, medical issues and incurred medical expenses due to unnecessary treatment.
Can I Make a Compensation Claim?
If you have been a victim of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, it is best to seek legal advice and support. Making a medical negligence claim as early as possible increases your chances of a successful outcome. If it is an NHS negligence claim, the NHS will deal with your complaint within 12 months, while private healthcare institutions will have to respond within four months.
How Medical Negligence Direct Can Help
The misdiagnosis claims solicitors at Medical Negligence Direct are specialists in handling complex negligence cases. We understand how difficult the impact of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can be, and provide the legal guidance and support you need to scale through this period. Our experienced medical negligence solicitors will walk you through every step of the complex legal process to ensure it is as hassle-free as possible.
Although misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can have a negative impact, a compensation claim can help restore your life to the position you were prior to the damage. Call us today on 0800 644 4240 for a free, initial consultation; our solicitors will do everything possible to help you seek justice and rebuild your life.