An accurate diagnosis is one of the most important steps in modern medical care. Your physician can’t treat you for a disease that they can’t identify.
Given that dozens of different medical issues could cause the same symptoms, patients are largely dependent on their care providers to determine the exact condition they have so that they can get the right treatment. Unfortunately, some patients don’t get a timely diagnosis from their doctor.
Often, diagnostic delays lead to minor issues like needing to make a second appointment or to take over-the-counter cough medication instead of a prescription drug. However, for a small number of patients, a delayed diagnosis can mean life-altering consequences.
How often do doctors make noteworthy diagnostic mistakes?
Failing to properly identify a head cold likely won’t have life-and-death consequences for a patient. The same is not true when the cause of their cough is lung cancer. Delays in diagnosis when someone has a progressive condition could limit their treatment options or even mean that total recovery is no longer possible.
In some cases, a delayed diagnosis could mean that someone ends up dying. Researchers who review reported medical mistakes estimate that about 100,000 people every year lose their lives or develop a disability because of a doctor’s failure to diagnose them.
Both patients who have a worse medical prognosis and therefore more expensive because of a diagnostic mistake, and those who lose a loved one, have legal rights. They could bring a claim against a physician or even a hospital where employees failed to diagnose someone when they show up at the emergency room in need of care right away.