When the failure to timely diagnose a patient’s condition results in the patient not receiving the medical care he or she needs, the patient (or the patient’s family) will often be entitled to just compensation. While some delayed diagnoses are medically justified, many are the result of diagnostic errors that constitute medical malpractice.
Delayed diagnosis is the most common form of medical malpractice in Connecticut and throughout the United States. Despite clear diagnostic procedures and extraordinary advancements in medical technology, the unfortunate reality is that many doctors still do not devote the time and attention necessary to understand and timely diagnose their patients’ conditions. From failing to conduct thorough exams and failing to consider potential diagnoses to misreading test results and sending patients home too soon, there are several factors to blame for the high rate of delayed diagnoses, and all of these factors have the potential to constitute medical malpractice.
In the context of assessing potential medical malpractice claims based upon delayed diagnoses, one of the first issues that needs to be addressed is this: When is a diagnosis considered “delayed”?
Due to the nature of most injuries and illnesses, it is virtually impossible for them to be diagnosed immediately (although there are exceptions; for example, when a patient is being monitored in a hospital). Patients must seek medical care in order to receive a diagnosis, so there is inherently going to be some amount of delay that is beyond any doctor’s or health care facility’s control. Furthermore, even once a patient seeks medical care, some amount of delay is still to be expected. Whether it takes time for the ambulance to arrive at the scene of an accident or multiple tests need to be performed in order to narrow down the list of potential diagnoses, there are various practical barriers to providing an immediate diagnosis.
Then, there is the fact that some diseases and other medical conditions develop over time. A patient may present with generic symptoms that are potentially indicative of numerous different conditions, and it may not be possible to pinpoint the patient’s illness until more information is available. Rare diseases and disorders may take longer to diagnose as well, as doctors will often focus on the most likely diagnoses in order to provide treatment that may mitigate the risk of further harm.
With these considerations in mind, while doctors cannot always be expected to diagnose patients’ conditions immediately, they do have a legal and ethical duty to provide diagnoses in as timely a manner as possible. If an opportunity to diagnose a patient’s condition is missed, this is the fundamental basis for a claim for medical malpractice. If a delay in diagnosing a patient’s condition is not due to factors beyond a doctor’s control, but is instead directly attributable to the doctor’s failure to meet his or her duty of care, then the patient (or the patient’s family) is entitled to seek just compensation for the consequences of the doctor’s mistake.
Many different types of medical mistakes can result in patients not receiving timely and accurate diagnoses. As a patient or family member, understanding the cause of a delayed diagnosis is less important than simply being aware that the delayed diagnosis has occurred (your attorney will be able to work with trusted medical experts to determine the cause of the delay for you). However, it can still be beneficial to be aware of some of the warning signs for diagnostic errors. For example, some of the most-common causes of delayed diagnoses include:
What else should patients and family members know about identifying potential diagnoses? Here are nine red flags for a delayed or missed diagnosis.
As we mentioned above, any failure that results in a delayed diagnosis has the potential to constitute medical malpractice. In Connecticut, doctors’ medical decisions are judged according to the standard of care in the relevant medical community. While this means that different doctors can be held to different standards (for example, a specialist in Bridgeport may be held to a higher standard than a family practitioner in a smaller city like Union or Cornwall), it also means that all doctors in Connecticut owe a clear and unrelenting duty to provide care to the best of their ability. Whether this means providing a timely diagnosis or providing a timely referral to an appropriate specialist, failing to meet this duty constitutes medical malpractice.
If you (or your loved one) signed an informed consent form, does this prevent you from pursuing a medical malpractice claim based on a delayed diagnosis? Contrary to popular belief, the answer to this question is a resounding, “No.”
In today’s world, health care providers almost universally obtain informed consent forms from their patients. In many cases, they do so upfront, before the patient has even received a diagnosis (or been sent home without one). While these forms are designed to limit health care providers’ liability, their practical effects are not nearly as broad as many people believe.
Furthermore, as we have previously discussed, “informed” consent actually means something, and there are standards for when a patient has been adequately informed. One of these standards is that the patient must receive a confirmed diagnosis. By seeking treatment, you are not consenting to substandard care. And signing an informed consent form does not mean that you are giving up your right to seek just compensation for the harmful effects of a delayed diagnosis. This is true for all types of injuries and illnesses, and it is true for all types of complications resulting from diagnostic mistakes. This includes:
The attorneys at Berkowitz Hanna provide experienced legal representation for Connecticut patients and families who are suffering due to delayed diagnoses. If you have questions and would like to speak with an attorney, we invite you to call us or contact us online for a free initial consultation.