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When is a diagnostic mistake medical malpractice?

Everyone makes mistakes. But doctors that err and injure their patients may be held accountable through a medical malpractice claim.

Diagnostic mistakes are a serious problem in medicine. Study after study has found that medical practitioners make these errors on a regular basis. In 2015, a publication in the National Academies of Medicine reported that the majority of people will receive at least one late or incorrect diagnosis during their lifetime. That same year the Institute of Medicine stated that diagnostic errors occur on a daily basis. In 2017, a study focusing on serious medical conditions out of Mayo Clinic found that 20 percent of patients were misdiagnosed.

These mistakes can lead to serious damages. Patients can suffer injury due to the failure to diagnosis a disease promptly. A disease that once was manageable with treatment may progress into a deadly problem while a patient waits for the right diagnosis.

These dire statistics support the contention that patients are their own best advocates. But it also begs the question — when does a misdiagnosis raise the level of medical malpractice?

What exactly is a missed diagnosis or a diagnostic error?

Before delving into an answer for when these errors cross the line into a medical malpractice claim, it is important to understand the definition of a diagnostic error. A diagnostic error is generally a failure by the medical professional to provide an accurate diagnosis for the patient’s health problem. This can also include a failure of the physician to explain a diagnosis to the patient.

When does a diagnostic error constitute medical malpractice?

A successful medical malpractice claim generally requires that the victim establish the physician failed to provide a diagnosis that a reasonable doctor in the same situation would consider. The victim will also likely need to show that he or she was injured and that a correct diagnosis would have avoided the injury.

Liability can also exist if a physician lists the correct diagnosis as a possibility but fails to follow through with expected testing.

How does an injured patient bring forward a medical malpractice claim?

Medical malpractice claims are complex legal creatures. They often require the use of expert testimony to show that the physician’s failure was a breach of his or her expected duties as a medical professional — establishing the first listed criterion above.

It is also important to note that these claims often have time limits. A statute of limitations can apply and will impact how long a victim has to bring forward his or her claim. In many cases, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim is only one year. As such, it is wise for anyone injured due to negligent medical care to promptly seek legal counsel. An experienced attorney can review the details of your case and help you determine what course of action is best.