Headlines about surgical tools being left in a patient’s body or babies born with birth defects due to a hospital’s negligence are attention-grabbing. However, a quieter and perhaps more deadly type of medical malpractice is the most common of all: missed diagnoses. If you are not diagnosed with a particular condition—even after seeking medical attention—you cannot get the treatment that your condition requires. In many cases, such a mistake by your doctor can have serious and permanent consequences.
Missed and Delayed Diagnoses
According to a recent study examining “medical malpractice claims against primary care doctors in the United States, Australia, France, and Canada,” the top reason for suing doctors is failure to diagnose a dangerous medical condition. The study determined that between 26 and 63 percent of all claims against doctors were related to missed diagnoses.
Not surprisingly, a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose cancer was the number one reason for the claim: specifically breast, colon, melanoma, and lung cancer. A failure to diagnose meningitis in children was high on the list, as was a failure to recognize a heart attack in adults.
The study found that the most common patient outcome in a medical malpractice claim was the death of the patient. The authors of the study speculated that many patients who experience adverse side effects or simply wait to learn their real diagnosis do not recognize the situation as potential medical malpractice and do not file. This means that the real number of missed diagnosis incidents is actually likely to be far higher than the number of claims indicated.
It is important to note, as the study did, that the filing of a malpractice claim for a missed diagnosis does not mean that the doctor was found to have been negligent. A malpractice claim is simply an allegation against the doctor by the affected patient or bereaved family. According to available statistics, approximately two-thirds of all medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States are dismissed by the courts with no finding against the medical professional. In Virginia and many other states, a medical malpractice suit cannot be activated in court unless a physician reviews the medical records and allegations and certifies that, in their judgment, the medical standards of care were violated.
How Filing Helps Doctors
Dr. David Troxel, the medical director of California-based malpractice insurer The Doctors Company, said that medical malpractice lawsuits could help doctors recognize where diagnoses are being missed and alert them to the possibility of atypical symptoms. This is true even if the claim is not found to be viable in court.
Many claims have been filed in recent years regarding cases of heart attacks in women. By studying these claims, doctors were able to learn more about how to detect the possibility of heart attacks in women and share this information with other doctors. “Ultimately [the process of analyzing malpractice claims] can contribute to improving the quality of medical practice,” Dr. Troxel said. He went on to indicate that once doctors realize they can be sued for skipping a particular test, they are likely to change their behavior and order the test each time they encounter a patient with a specific symptom.
What You Need to Know About Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim in Virginia
Suing a doctor or filing any type of medical malpractice action against a medical professional or facility sounds more than a little daunting. And the truth is that the process can be very difficult in many cases. However, if professional negligence by a medical provider caused you or a loved one to suffer harm which resulted in permanent injuries or irreversible impairments, you deserve to be made as whole as possible.
In order for your medical malpractice claim to be successful, you will need to show that the medical provider in question failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care and that the failure was a “proximate cause” (a direct cause) of the harm you suffered. According to § 8.01-581.20 of the Virginia Code, the “appropriate standard of care” is defined as “that degree of skill and diligence practiced by a reasonably prudent practitioner in the field of practice or specialty in this Commonwealth.” Proving that a provider failed to provide appropriate care generally requires testimony from an expert witness—usually another doctor or medical practitioner in the same field as the provider in question.
Let Us Help
If you or someone you know has been adversely affected by a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the most important step is to contact the experienced Virginia medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp. We will do everything we can to evaluate a potential claim, and if we can pursue the claim, we will ensure that your rights and best interests are fully protected every step of the way, just as we did when we secured a $1.6 million jury verdict for a client who suffered a seizure and traumatic brain injury after a missed diagnosis.