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Understanding misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis claims

On Behalf of | Nov 8, 2023 | Failure To Diagnose, Hospital Negligence

Medical malpractice cases can be highly complex, and perhaps especially so when they involve a claim of misdiagnosis. In this blog post, we will explore the issues involved in these cases.

Study: 795,000 seriously harmed by misdiagnosis every year

One recently published study found that misdiagnosis harms hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Researchers for the Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions and the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Center for Diagnostic Excellence found that 795,000 Americans suffer permanent harm or death due to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis every year.

About 75% of these misdiagnoses occur for patients experiencing cancer, infections or heart attacks. Other conditions that often go without a timely diagnosis include blood clots, pneumonia and sepsis.

Professional standards

Clearly, misdiagnosis is a serious problem that is hurting a lot of people, but a case of misdiagnosis does not necessarily justify a medical malpractice lawsuit.

To successfully make a claim of medical malpractice, the injured must show that the care provided to them fell below professional standards, and that they were injured due to that lapse in standards. For example, in a case involving a surgical error, the patient might show that the surgeon’s error was below professional standards, that this error was the cause of their injuries, and that they suffered damages as a result of their injuries.

Misdiagnosis and malpractice

The medical malpractice picture is murkier in a case involving misdiagnosis. The patient must show that the failure to give them an accurate and timely diagnosis constituted a lapse in professional standards. Next, they must show that they suffered a worsened condition because of that lapse. After that, they must calculate the damages they suffered due to that worsened condition.

For example, if a doctor fails to diagnose a patient’s cancer in a timely manner, the cancer can spread and become more serious, requiring more extensive treatments. In such a case, the patient might use expert testimony to estimate how quickly the cancer spread after the doctor’s error, and then calculate the damages they suffered as a result.

But before they can do all that, they must establish that the misdiagnosis itself represented medical negligence that fell below professional standards. This isn’t necessarily easy to do: Just as they can’t cure every patient, doctors can’t necessarily spot every medical condition right away. The plaintiff in a misdiagnosis claim must prove not only that the doctor failed to give them a timely diagnosis, but also that this failure was due to the level of care falling below professional standards. In other words, a reasonable doctor under the same or similar circumstances would have diagnosed the condition.


As you can see, it isn’t easy to build a misdiagnosis claim. It requires gathering the right evidence and knowing what questions to ask of expert witnesses.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it can’t be done. As the Harvard/Johns Hopkins study shows, misdiagnosis is a serious and all-too-common problem. When medical professionals negligently harm their patients, they should be held accountable, and the injured should be compensated for what they have lost.

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