You expect your doctors and other medical professionals at Chicago healthcare facilities to heal you—not make your condition worse or cause you a new medical problem. However, healthcare workers are not immune to mistakes. Sometimes, Windy City medical providers misdiagnose a patient's condition, leading to severe health complications and, in some cases, the patient's death.
Not all instances of misdiagnosis constitute medical malpractice. But many do. Chicago doctors and other medical providers can face legal liability to their patients and patients' loved ones under Illinois law if they fail to provide a minimum acceptable standard of care in making a medical diagnosis and cause harm.
In this blog post, we explore the topic of medical misdiagnosis in Chicago—what it is, the harm it can cause, and how an experienced Chicago medical malpractice attorney can help patients and their families obtain financial compensation for it.
What Is Medical Misdiagnosis?
Misdiagnosis is one of the most common mistakes a medical professional can make. It occurs whenever a doctor or other healthcare provider incorrectly assesses or fails to assess a patient's medical condition and needs.
Numerous types of medical misdiagnosis can happen in Chicago healthcare settings. Here is a review of some of the most common ones.
Diagnosing the Wrong Medical Condition
The most straightforward and obvious form of misdiagnosis occurs when doctors simply get a diagnosis wrong. They evaluate and treat a patient for one type of medical problem, when in fact the patient suffers from a different one.
Wrong diagnoses can harm patients in many ways. They may, for example, result in the patient not receiving necessary, life-saving treatment, such as in the case of a medical professional misdiagnosing a heart attack as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GRD). Or, they can lead to a patient receiving unnecessary, harmful treatment for a condition that does not exist, such as if a doctor misdiagnoses GRD as a heart attack.
Missing a Diagnosis Altogether
Another common form of misdiagnosis happens when a doctor simply does not recognize the signs and symptoms of a patient's medical problem, and instead gives the patient a clean bill of health. For example, a doctor giving a patient an annual checkup may fail to spot obvious indications that the patient suffers from diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Missed misdiagnoses can easily cause otherwise treatable health problems to worsen. Patients whom doctors tell are healthy, when in fact they're not, can suffer needlessly from pain and disability, and may even die because of their undiagnosed conditions.
Unreasonable Delay in Making a Correct Diagnosis
The two types of misdiagnosis described above often go hand-in-hand with a third common mistake medical professionals make: reaching the correct diagnosis too late to prevent serious harm to a patient. A delayed cancer diagnosis, for instance, can mean the difference between the patient receiving therapies that halt the cancer before it spreads and the patient developing fatal metastatic cancer.
The mistakes involved in unreasonably delaying a correct diagnosis mirror those at the root of wrong and missed diagnoses. Healthcare workers may not recognize a patient's symptoms for what they are, or may not believe the patient's description of those symptoms, for example.
Failing to Diagnose Common Complications and Related Conditions
Another form of misdiagnosis consists of failing to diagnose common medical complications associated with a patient's known condition. For example, a healthcare worker who treats a patient for diabetes may fail to recognize warning signs of nerve damage (neuropathy) or vision problems (retinopathy) that commonly occur in diabetic patients.
Misdiagnosis of complications and related conditions can be just as harmful as misdiagnosis of a condition itself. People with diabetes can live healthy, productive lives, but doing so often requires a healthcare provider who monitors and treats their condition with appropriate therapies and medications.
Common Causes of Medical Misdiagnosis in Chicago
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), medical misdiagnosis is a persistent problem in healthcare settings nationwide. In fact, research has found that misdiagnosis accounts for 17 percent of preventable medical errors in hospitalized patients.
Misdiagnosis commonly happens, according to AHRQ, because medical professionals rely on diagnostic shortcuts or rules-of-thumb. These time-saving assumptions and conclusions about a patient's complaints and symptoms, which researchers refer to as “heuristics,” can frequently lead to a swift, accurate diagnosis that improves a patient's outcome.
But heuristics are not 100 percent accurate, and medical professionals can easily make the mistake of relying on them too heavily, leading to misdiagnosis. Here are some common heuristics AHRQ has found that medical professionals rely upon in a manner that can harm patients.
Most people, including doctors, rely on their past experiences to evaluate conditions in the present. Researchers call this the “availability heuristic.” It's the sense of feeling confident in knowing what you're seeing because you've seen it before.
Medical professionals, of course, always draw on past diagnoses they've made to make a diagnosis of a new patient. But if they place too much confidence in what they've seen and diagnosed in the past, they may fail to pay sufficient attention to signs or symptoms that differentiate their current patient's condition, leading to a misdiagnosis.
Another cognitive bias that medical professionals, like all people, can exhibit, is anchoring. This is the tendency to stick with an initial conclusion—in this case, a diagnosis—even when new information calls that conclusion into question. It reflects the common resistance people feel to recognizing they're wrong about something.
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals commonly fall victim to anchoring, and medical misdiagnosis can easily result from it. Doctors, in particular, may let a tendency to anchor their opinions overshadow new information because they have a strong aversion to admitting error in front of colleagues and subordinates.
The context in which information comes to us results in what is known as “framing”. We tend to let that context influence how we interpret the information presented to us. Medical professionals are not immune to the effects of framing, and in fact, it frequently helps them make an accurate diagnosis. If a doctor knows that a patient complaining of pain and nausea is also a heroin user, the doctor will be more likely to diagnose withdrawal as the cause of those symptoms, for instance.
But framing can also lead to misdiagnosis. Context does not always dictate how to interpret information. Knowing that a patient abuses drugs can blind a medical professional to alternative explanations for the patient's symptoms, leading to poor health outcomes.
Doctors, like most people, can also allow their perceptions of expertise or authority to influence their evaluation of a patient, resulting in misdiagnosis. A doctor may, for example, put too much faith in the results of a diagnostic test, failing to take its flaws into account. Or, a new doctor may defer to the opinion of a more senior, experienced colleague. As with the other heuristics above, this “blind obedience” to perceived expertise or authority can hinder an accurate diagnosis, and ultimately harm a patient.
When does misdiagnosis amount to medical malpractice?
As we mentioned above, not all medical misdiagnosis that happens in a Chicago healthcare setting amounts to medical malpractice. Diagnosis of a medical condition can involve significant uncertainty. Sometimes, even the most reasonable, careful interpretation of a patient's symptoms and complaints might end in a misdiagnosis.
Under Illinois law, misdiagnosis amounts to medical malpractice only when the actions and decisions of the medical professional in reaching that misdiagnosis fell short of the minimum acceptable standard of medical care the patient had a right to receive. That standard of care is measured by comparing the actions of the doctor who made the misdiagnosis on one hand, to those that a reasonably well-qualified physician in the same or similar community would take in a similar case under similar circumstances, on the other.
It's not always easy to tell if a misdiagnosis meets that test. That's why you need the advice and counsel of an experienced Chicago medical malpractice attorney if you believe a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare worker misdiagnosed you or a loved one. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate the circumstances of the misdiagnosis and determine if you have the right to seek financial compensation under Illinois law.
What to Do When You Suspect a Misdiagnosis
If you suspect that a medical professional in Chicago harmed you or a loved one through a misdiagnosis, contact an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer immediately. Under Illinois law, you have limited time to take legal action seeking compensation for the harm you suffered. A lawyer may need to take immediate steps on your behalf to protect your legal and financial rights.
How a Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyer Can Help After a Misdiagnosis
A medical malpractice lawyer in Chicago can serve multiple functions for a client who has suffered injuries and losses due to a misdiagnosis. Here are just some of the ways that an attorney experienced in representing clients in medical misdiagnosis cases can help.
Free Misdiagnosis Case Evaluation
Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers in Chicago provide one of the most important services for free, before you even hire us. In our no-cost initial consultation, one of our attorneys can conduct an initial evaluation of your potential misdiagnosis to determine if you likely have a case to make against the medical provider for financial damages. Lawyers offer free case evaluations to make it easy and safe for you to explore your legal rights and options without spending money you don't have.
Immediate Action to Protect Your Rights and Interests
If a Chicago medical misdiagnosis attorney advises that you have a potential case, and you decide to work together, then the next step that lawyer will often take involves taking initial steps to make sure your rights stay protected and your options stay open.
An attorney may, for example, have to act quickly to put insurance companies on notice of your potential claim, to contact a new medical provider to get you the care you need, and to meet deadlines set by law so that you do not lose your rights to compensation.
Case Investigation and Medical Expert Consultation
An attorney can also take important, necessary steps to investigate and collect evidence to support your misdiagnosis claim. Skilled Chicago misdiagnosis attorneys know how and when to obtain your medical records and other important information from medical providers and insurance carriers. They also routinely work with a network of medical experts who can evaluate your claim and issue a certificate of merit attesting to the validity of your claim (a necessary step to suing a medical provider for malpractice under Illinois statutes).
Formal Demand for Compensation
In most cases, a misdiagnosis malpractice lawyer in Chicago will typically prepare a formal demand seeking compensation from the medical provider at fault for the misdiagnosis. That demand may take the form of a claim against a provider's malpractice insurance, a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court or the federal district court for the Northern District of Illinois, or a demand for arbitration.
Settlement Negotiation and/or Mediation
Most successful medical misdiagnosis claims in Chicago achieve a resolution through a negotiated settlement. In a typical settlement, the provider at-fault for a misdiagnosis and that provider's malpractice insurer pay money to the injured patient, in return for the patient releasing those parties from future liability. Skilled Chicago medical malpractice attorneys have years of experience negotiating settlements that seek to achieve the maximum payment for their clients.
Going to Court
Not all successful misdiagnosis cases end in settlement, however. In some, it takes going to court and proving a misdiagnosis case to a Chicago judge and jury to get the injured patient the money they need and deserve. The best medical malpractice lawyers have a demonstrated track record of successful results in and out of the courtroom.