What Errors May Occur During a Medical Diagnosis?

When you or a loved one is suffering from a medical ailment, the hope is that you will see a medical professional and quickly receive a diagnosis and treatment. There are times when this happens. However, there are times when the journey to a correct diagnosis and appropriate medical care is a bit more complicated.

Your doctor or medical professional has been schooled in the diagnostic process. There are steps in the process that can easily become missteps if they are not careful. These errors can lead to an incorrect diagnosis. When a misdiagnosis occurs, the patient may experience worsening of their condition, and it can even be fatal.

If you or someone you care about has been misdiagnosed medically, it is in your best interest to speak to the Portland medical malpractice attorneys with Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys, PC. Our experienced trial attorneys can offer you guidance and advise you about your next steps.

The Diagnosis Process Can Be a Simple One

There are times when a patient visits their doctor with an easily diagnosed issue. The medical professional will take into account the symptoms the patient is experiencing as well as the patient’s history. Some examples of easily diagnosed illnesses are as follows:

  • Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is a fairly straightforward diagnosis. The doctor will look for the presence of swelling, redness, itchiness, and a gritty feeling.
  • Shingles: Diagnosing shingles is typically a one-step diagnosis. The presence of vesicular lesions is all the practitioner has to see to diagnose the illness.
  • Strep: When a patient has a sore throat and a temperature, a simple throat culture can lead quickly to a diagnosis.
  • Flu: Patients experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, fever, achiness, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, will have a flu test administered to arrive at a diagnosis.

Straightforward symptoms and easily administered tests can quickly diagnose many ailments.

More Complicated Diagnoses

While it is easy to recognize conjunctivitis or shingles, it can be far more difficult when the symptoms are more mysterious. Some symptoms that a patient might present that could interpreted in a number of different ways are as follows:

  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Attempting to diagnose an illness with symptoms that could signal many different diseases or conditions can require multiple steps. The more diagnostic steps that are required, the more room there is for error. However, the steps must be taken to reach an accurate diagnosis.

Understanding the Diagnostic Process

Practitioners must have a firm grasp of the diagnostic process in order to avoid errors in making diagnoses and treating patients. There is room for error at every stage, and this can be detrimental to the patient and can lead to medical malpractice if not caught.

To avoid errors, the medical professional must be aware, educated, and intentional. Specific clinical conduct and procedures will inform the doctor as well as prevent mistakes. The Institute of Medicine released a commentary in 2015 entitled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care.” It summarized what the diagnostic process should entail. The CRICO Strategies 2014 Annual Benchmarking report also offered a model.

Each of these reports outlined between 10 and 12 elements that make up the diagnosis process. Discussed in the reports are errors and areas that may be inadequate in each step of the process.

Analyzation of Malpractice Cases

The CRICO data took into account 2,300 cases of malpractice. In this report, they demonstrated how often errors occur within each phase of diagnosis. The information they found was very helpful for healthcare professionals and their patients.

Three Categories of the Diagnostic Process

The diagnostic process falls into three distinct categories, though they are expansive. Listed below is a brief description of each:

  1. Initial Diagnostic Assessment: During this phase of diagnostic testing, the patient’s history will be taken into account, a physical examination will be performed, and the concerns the patient brings to the clinician will be addressed. A differential diagnosis will be formulated, and further diagnostic testing will likely be prescribed.
  2. Diagnostic testing: Tests to further narrow down the possibilities will be performed. The doctor will interpret those results and discuss them with the patient.
  3. Referral, consultation, treatment, and follow-up: The doctor will then refer the patient to a specialist for a consultation if necessary or will discharge them if possible. The medical professional in charge of the case will follow up with the patient, and the patient will need to follow the orders given by their doctor.

What is a Differential Diagnosis?

After analyzing the chief complaints the patient’s medical history, and performing a thorough examination, the medical professional will take into account the patient’s risk factors. This will help to develop a differential diagnosis. This is probably the most important part of the diagnostic process.

A differential diagnosis is where most diagnostic errors happen. Sometimes, the differential diagnosis follows too slim a path or simply leads the healthcare team in the wrong direction. Often, doctors have biases that cause them to zero in on one potential diagnosis over another. At other times, the results are just not well thought out, which results in poorly reasoned diagnoses.

If errors are made in this stage of the process, an accurate diagnosis might be missed altogether. This could cause the severity of the patient’s condition to worsen, threatening their life. Missed diagnoses or having a diagnosis delayed can critically affect the patient.

Medical Malpractice Cases

As discussed above, the differential diagnosis step is a crucial one. At this phase of the diagnostic process, a third of medical malpractice errors occur. This is because the wrong tests may be ordered, or the appropriate tests may be skipped altogether.

When the correct tests are not ordered, there is not enough data provided to come up with an adequate diagnosis. When the wrong tests are done, it is likely that the wrong treatments will be administered. This will lead to the wrong outcome, further endangering the patient.

Contact Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys, PC For Guidance

A misdiagnosis can have long-term effects on you or your loved ones. If you have experienced a medical error, seek legal counsel promptly. At Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys, PC, our personal injury attorneys in Portland have the skills and legal acumen to offer you the guidance you need to handle an act of medical malpractice.