Like many people, when you hear the term "medical malpractice," you may think of incidents wherein a doctor or other healthcare provider has committed some form of terrible misconduct or made a careless mistake that resulted in injury or harm to a patient. A far less obvious yet much more common form of medical error is delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, but the results can be just as devastating or even fatal.
When doctors accurately diagnose illnesses or diseases early, before they become too serious, the prognosis for many patients is generally optimistic. All too frequently, however, health care professionals discover misdiagnoses only after it is too late, during the autopsy performed to determine cause of death. The earlier a healthcare professional diagnoses your illness, the earlier you can receive the care you need; in many cases, delays result in serious side effects and worsened symptoms, even in cases where the doctor discovers his or her mistake before it results in death.
Diagnostic errors by the numbers
Consider these upsetting statistics:
- According to an Institute of Medicine report, Americans experience approximately 12 million diagnostic errors every year.
- Five percent of outpatients will experience a diagnostic error.
- Diagnostic errors contribute to 10 percent of all patient deaths.
- Delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis is nearly twice as likely result in a patient's death compared to other types of medical malpractice claims.
Essentially, studies indicate that most people will suffer from one incorrect or delayed diagnosis during their lifetimes.
What this means for you
Even if you have not already been a victim of misdiagnosis, your luck may not hold out forever. Diagnostic errors, even when they do not result in death, generally mean either delayed treatment or unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment. In turn, this often results in not only dire financial consequences such as increased medical costs for additional – and unneeded -- care, but harmful physical and even psychological consequences when a patient goes untreated and additional symptoms occur.
Of course, it is the health care provider's responsibility to deliver accurate and timely medical treatment. However, you don't want to become a statistic. Many times, if a doctor had ordered additional testing or taken more time with you, he or she could have discovered the misdiagnosis early enough to make a proper or accurate diagnosis. Far too often, though, you receive such testing only after your symptoms worsen, resulting in even higher health risks. So, what can you do? At appointments, you can:
- Be sure to ask as many questions as you need.
- Double check any treatments you receive and any medications the doctor prescribes.
- Research your diagnosis, and don't be afraid to seek a second opinion.
Additionally, you might find it helpful, if possible, to bring a family member or friend to appointments as a second pair of eyes and ears, to help keep track of everything the doctor says and to bring up questions or concerns you might not think of at the time.
If it's already too late
If, due to a doctor's failure to diagnose your illness in a timely manner, you suffered worsened or prolonged pain and injury, a New Mexico attorney with experience in medical malpractice law may be able to help you pursue compensation for your suffering and any resultant expenses. Likewise, if you lost a loved one due to a delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, a lawyer who is familiar with medical malpractice wrongful death suits can offer invaluable legal advice on seeking justice for your terrible loss.