Misdiagnosis: Medical Malpractice & How it Works

Many medical malpractice cases involve claims of misdiagnosis. But what is a misdiagnosis? And when does a misdiagnosis count as medical malpractice?

What Is a Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis is where a doctor makes a mistake in their diagnosis. If a doctor mistakes one condition for another, they could recommend a course of treatment which, at best, will do nothing.

But in some cases, the wrong course of treatment can make things worse. It can prolong illness, make existing conditions more critical, and it can even prove fatal.

If a doctor makes a misdiagnosis, it could impact on a patient’s recovery or long term health

Are All Misdiagnoses Medical Malpractice?

Not all misdiagnoses count as medical malpractice. For a claim of medical malpractice to be successful, the claimant will first have to prove that their doctor was in some way negligent.

When Does a Misdiagnosis Count as Medical Malpractice?

If the majority of healthcare professionals with the same speciality would have been able to correctly diagnose the condition, then one might reasonably assume that the doctor who made the misdiagnosis overlooked something significant. In which case, one might conclude that they acted negligently.

But the biggest indicator that a misdiagnosis might count as medical malpractice is where it results in further illness or injury. This isn’t always the case with misdiagnoses. A doctor might mistake a simple case of heartburn for an acute heart condition, for example. But if a doctor mistakes, say, appendicitis for indigestion, then their mistake can lead to some serious problems.

Examples of Common Misdiagnosis Claims

The misdiagnosis cases that are most likely to result in medical malpractice claims are those where there’s the greatest risk of further injury or serious illness. These include:

  • Broken Bones – If you break or fracture a bone, you’ll need a cast to help the bone heal. You’ll also have to refrain from putting any pressure on the bone for a while. So if a doctor fails to identify a broken bone, a patient might not take the necessary steps to give the bone time to heal. This risks causing further fractures or breakages – and these might prove much more difficult to treat than the original condition.
  • Cancer – The earlier cancer treatment starts, the better. So if a doctor fails to spot the signs of cancer, it can prolong a patient’s recovery time, or even shorten their life expectancy.
  • Meningitis – A key symptom of meningitis is a skin rash, which a doctor might misdiagnose as eczema, or an allergic reaction. They might then recommend a course of treatment to address a skin condition, instead of a more urgent course of treatment for meningitis.
  • Heart Conditions and Head Injuries – Is that chest pain indigestion, or something much more serious? And how worried should you be about those headaches? Obviously, heart conditions and head injuries are invariably serious. Unfortunately, they’re also comparatively easy to misdiagnose. And when it comes to the heart and the head, any delay in treatment could mean the difference between life and death.

Protect Yourself Against Misdiagnosis Claims

We all make mistakes. Regrettably for healthcare professionals, mistakes can prove deadly. And if your mistake leads to a lot of pain, anger and grief, then your patients may decide to make a claim against you.

That’s why it’s essential that all healthcare professionals get medical malpractice insurance. This can cover you for claims of misdiagnosis and medical negligence.

Your employer will probably already have a group medical malpractice insurance policy. However, this policy might not offer you total cover. For example, it may only cover you for claims that arise while you’re working for your current employer.

Often, patients don’t realise the negative effects of a misdiagnosis for a long time. By the time they make a claim against you, you might have changed employers. And if you’re no longer covered by your employer’s group policy, then you’ll be personally liable to cover all costs.

So for total protection, consider getting your own personal medical malpractice insurance policy, to cover any areas that your employer’s policy might overlook.

If you have any questions, or you’d like to discuss your options, you can contact the Tapoly team at info@tapoly.com. You can also call our helpline on +44(0)207 846 0108, or you can use our website chat function.