The Difference Between a Missed Diagnosis and a Misdiagnosis

Most people, when confronted with unusual and unpleasant physical symptoms, put a lot of trust into their doctors to know what’s going on and what should be done to make them better. Unfortunately, because doctors are people and people make mistakes, it’s not always the case that doctors know what’s going on or what to do. Tragically, there are a variety of mistakes that doctors make, including negligence, misdiagnosis, and failure to diagnose, otherwise known as missed diagnosis. Although they sound very similar, there is a meaningful difference between a misdiagnosis and a missed diagnosis. Many people aren’t aware that misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis can qualify as medical malpractice.

Misdiagnosis

When you go to a doctor for help with a medical condition, you expect that the doctor will ask you questions, run any necessary tests, and provide options for treatment. Some medical conditions have similar symptoms or are difficult to definitively test for, so doctors will ask more questions or consult with your medical history to try to ascertain how likely it is that you’re experiencing one condition as opposed to another. Sometimes, doctors will use their best judgment or experience to determine what condition is most likely. Unfortunately, the complicated nature of diseases and the process by which we attempt to figure out what a person is experiencing isn’t perfect and often leads to misdiagnosis.

Misdiagnosis means that a doctor has diagnosed a person with the wrong medical condition. Misdiagnosis is dangerous because it often results in unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous treatments. Additionally, the time and effort spent treating the wrong condition can often lead to the actual condition getting worse. Another added problem is that a lot of money is often spent attempting to treat a person for the wrong medical condition. It’s often the case that, by the time the correct diagnosis is established, valuable time, money, and effort have been wasted. In the worst cases, it’s too late once the correct diagnosis is found.  

Missed Diagnosis

Missed diagnosis, sometimes referred to as failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis, occurs when a doctor fails to identify a medical condition at the time they’re presented with it. For example, a person may go to a doctor because their heart and mind are suddenly and inexplicably racing. The doctor, assuming that it’s most likely a panic attack, may opt to do nothing and see if the situation passes. If the person in this example is experiencing atrial fibrillation, then the doctor has missed the diagnosis. If the doctor chooses to prescribe anti-anxiety medication to treat a panic disorder, the doctor has misdiagnosed the patient. While there are similarities between the two, the end result is the same. The patient isn’t given necessary treatment at the time that they need it. Both misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis can result in a medical condition worsening during the time it takes to correctly diagnose the problem.

Medical Malpractice

Many people mistakenly assume that misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis are normal parts of the healthcare process. People don’t believe that doctors are legally responsible for worsening medical conditions or medical costs that result from delayed treatment or incorrect treatment. This is not the case. The law recognizes that delays in diagnosis and failure to properly diagnosis are physically, emotionally, and financially damaging to individuals. If you’ve suffered as a result of a misdiagnosis or a missed diagnosis, you may be able to recoup some of your losses. For a free consultation, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield today!


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