Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are unfortunately common in modern medical practice. They can occur in a doctor's office, hospital, emergency room (ER), or urgent care center. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis happen most frequently in ERs and urgent care centers because of the nature of the environment – emergency situations create an atmosphere in which speed and pressure can cause mistakes in judgment, communication, or procedures. Wherever these mistakes are made, though, long-term harm can be caused to the patient.

Frequency of medical errors

According to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University, medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., following close behind heart disease and cancer. Analyzing eight years of data, JHU determined that 250,000 people die every year due to avoidable mistakes. Another study, published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety in 2014, found that 12 million Americans, or 1-in-20 adult patients, are misdiagnosed yearly, and half of those misdiagnoses had the potential for severe harm.

Common misdiagnoses

The same BMJ study found that 10-20% of patients misdiagnosed had serious conditions; 44% of certain types of cancer were misdiagnosed, the most common being prostate, thyroid, and breast cancer; and 88% of second opinions on cancer diagnoses resulted in a major change in diagnosis. They further found that 28% of the misdiagnoses were life-threatening or life-altering.

Other common misdiagnoses include:

  • Heart attacks being misdiagnosed as indigestion or panic attacks
  • Asthma being mistaken for chronic bronchitis
  • Lyme disease diagnosed as flu, mononucleosis, or depression
  • Parkinson's disease being mistaken for Alzheimer's, stroke, or stress
  • Lupus being labeled chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or rheumatoid arthritis

The ER is a fast-paced environment with many critically ill or injured patients for whom doctors have no background history except what they can glean from the patient or loved one. This environment makes misdiagnosis very common. But however understandable the mistakes might be, doctors and nurses in ER settings should have a heightened awareness of possible atypical symptoms of common conditions to prevent long-term harm or death due to misdiagnosis. Some frequently misdiagnosed ER conditions include:

  • Pulmonary embolism (more than 50% are misdiagnosed yearly)
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (30% misdiagnosed annually) and aortic dissection (up to 30%)
  • Bacterial meningitis (close to 25%)
  • Stroke (nearly 14%)
  • Acute myocardial infarction (8%)

Personal injury law and malpractice lawsuits

In order to file a malpractice personal injury lawsuit, you must demonstrate the “4 Ds”:

  • Duty of care: The medical provider had the duty to provide care, which is to say that there is an established patient-doctor relationship. This includes the ER or urgent care setting, but would not include a casual remark from a medical professional you happen to know.
  • Dereliction of that duty: The physician or medical provider failed to follow standards of acceptable medical practice, such that another competent and prudent medical provider would follow.
  • Direct or proximate cause: Your injury can be directly or closely connected to the medical negligence.
  • Damages: There is a clear injury for which a patient can seek compensation.

What to do if you think you've been misdiagnosed

If you think you've been recently misdiagnosed, follow the treatment suggested unless you think it's making you worse, and get a second opinion as quickly as possible. If it differs significantly from the first diagnosis, get a third opinion. Begin effective treatment as soon as possible. Then reach out to us so we can help determine if the first doctor's misdiagnosis caused you a delay in treatment that resulted in harm.

If you were misdiagnosed previously and you believe the misdiagnosis has caused you long-term harm, you may have a case against the medical personnel and medical establishment where you received the misdiagnosis. As expert attorneys in personal injury and malpractice law in Pennsylvania, we will fight to get you the best outcome for your case. Call us today at our Southampton, PA office at (215) 364-4900 for a free consultation.