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What Are the Dangers of a Delayed Diagnosis?

Every year, medical errors affect thousands of patients throughout the United States. One example is a diagnostic error, such as a delayed diagnosis. Failure to promptly and accurately diagnose a medical condition can cause a patient to lose the opportunity for a cure and result in permanent harm. In some cases, a delayed diagnosis can be fatal.

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What Is a Delayed Diagnosis?

Delayed diagnosis means that a patient’s medical condition was diagnosed later than it should have been due to negligence by a health care practitioner. It is a type of medical malpractice, meaning a careless mistake or error committed by a medical provider. Medical diagnoses should be made as quickly as possible based on a patient’s symptoms, complaints and a physical evaluation. The correct tests should also be ordered by a doctor to rule out the possibilities raised by a patient’s presentation.

If a physician ignores a patient, overlooks symptoms, fails to check the patient’s medical and family histories, does not order tests or interpret them correctly, or does not refer the patient to a specialist, it could result in a delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. All of these mistakes can be extremely harmful to a patient. Delayed medical diagnoses are a common reason for Philadelphia medical malpractice claims.

The Importance of a Timely Diagnosis

When a patient gets sick, he or she needs a correct and timely diagnosis so that an appropriate treatment plan can be initiated. For many illnesses and conditions, there is a limited window of time where medical intervention can still work. A cancer patient, for example, may need early detection and prompt treatment to achieve remission. Any delays in diagnosing cancer could lead to cancer cells spreading or metastasizing throughout the body, limiting the treatment options available and reducing the patient’s prognosis for survival and quality of life.

If a patient notices symptoms of a medical condition and goes to the doctor promptly, the condition may be treated early, giving the patient the best chance of a positive outcome. If medical negligence or malpractice leads to a delay in diagnosis, however, the patient may not receive the prompt medical intervention that he or she needs. This can lead to a mild or early-stage condition progressing into a severe or life-threatening condition. The patient may miss the window for medical intervention and the disease might not be diagnosed until it is too late to treat effectively.

What Causes Delayed Diagnoses?

It is critical for a doctor to follow the proper protocols and methods when diagnosing a patient. The typical method of diagnosis involves a process of elimination. Following this method the physician should create a list of potential diagnoses based on the patient’s history, symptoms and physical evaluation. Then, the physician should order the appropriate tests to rule out possibilities, narrowing down the list until one diagnosis can be confirmed. This method of diagnosis is called the differential diagnosis method and it is generally the medical standard of care to follow this method. Unfortunately, not all doctors use the correct process to come to a diagnosis.

A common reason for delayed medical diagnoses is a lack of communication between the patient’s primary care provider and secondary care or a specialist. Abnormal test results may not be communicated promptly between offices, for example. In addition, doctors and clinicians may not properly communicate with their patients, resulting in a patient not receiving test results or not understanding their significance and the follow-up required. Unfortunately, these mistakes can cost a patient his or her life. In such a situation, a Philadelphia wrongful death attorney may be able to help your family seek justice for the loss of your loved one.

Legal Options for a Delayed Diagnosis

If you are a victim of a delayed diagnosis in Pennsylvania, you may have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim. This type of civil lawsuit seeks financial compensation for the harm or losses that you suffered due to the diagnostic error. It seeks to prove that your doctor was negligent or committed an act or omission that a reasonable and prudent doctor would not have, and that this is what caused the delayed diagnosis. If you or your medical malpractice attorney can successfully prove your case, you may receive financial compensation for your related past and future losses.