Understand the care you're owed--and what your rights are if they're not honored
Although they may not seem as immediately harmful as other medical personal injuries like surgical errors or improper prescriptions, getting an incorrect diagnosis is dangerous. If your doctor fails to identify the true cause of your illness or injury, you risk it getting worse from going untreated. The failure to timely diagnose a patient's condition may also decrease the patient's chance of survival or recovery. This is commonly referred to as the “Loss of Chance Doctrine” and is a factor in the proximate cause analysis. Additionally, a doctor failing to identify a systemic issue like an autoimmune disease or cancerous growth threatens other conditions developing later due to a lack of treatment.
While these cases are extremely serious, they can often be difficult to understand. The language surrounding medical negligence is complicated, making it challenging to understand what rights you have when a doctor fails to diagnose you properly. To that end, let's explore the duty of care that you're owed as a patient, what happens if it is violated, and what your next steps are when that happens.
What is duty of care, and what does it entail?
Simply put, your doctor is required to act in your best interests. As a doctor's advice, observations, and actions can have massive consequences for your long-term health, it's a logical expectation that doctors assist you to the best of their ability.
The law recognizes this responsibility. Under Illinois law, doctors can be held accountable if they fail to help their patients in a way that could be described as careless or negligent.
It's worth noting that this is different from simply making mistakes. Unfortunately, even the most skilled and experienced doctors still make mistakes. However, doctors who are observing a proper standard of care will be able to identify, remedy, and move beyond these mistakes without compromising the care afforded to their patients.
One of the most destructive breaches of this standard of care is when physicians or doctors fail to diagnose medical issues properly. When this happens, it can be the basis for a failure to diagnose a personal injury case.
What does failure to diagnose mean?
While the term failure to diagnose seems like it has an obvious meaning, it's worth noting that there's some nuance in what it means.
When a doctor sits down with a patient, they build a list of possible conditions and tailor their diagnosis accordingly. As they examine you, a doctor will be working down the list—starting with the most likely conditions—and adjusting their diagnostic tests accordingly. The diagnosis can come from asking patients new questions, ordering new tests, or examining specific areas closer. Their objective is to rule out possibilities until there is only one likely answer remaining.
Medical science isn't perfect. No matter how precise medical tools and training get, there is always a margin for error in administering care. Doctors are aware of this, so skilled doctors will structure their diagnosis around minimizing that margin as much as possible.
An error in diagnosis becomes a failure to diagnose a personal injury case when a doctor's testing methodology is so flawed and negligent that they were unlikely (or unable) to arrive at the correct diagnosis.
When this happens, you must talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney immediately. An attorney will help you better understand if your rights as a patient have been violated and what your next steps are.
How do I know if a doctor was negligent?
Medical professionals operate under different standards than the “common sense” rules that apply to drivers or building owners. Suppose you're injured in a car accident because another driver didn't follow the rules of the road. In that case, there is a very straightforward argument that their driving constituted negligent behavior.
Doctors, however, are held to a different definition of negligence when making a diagnosis. A patient must prove that a doctor with similar skills and qualifications would not have misdiagnosed the injury. To that end, they must prove that the doctor did not include the correct diagnosis on their diagnostic list, and an equally skilled, qualified doctor would have. Another possibility is that the doctor identified a potentially accurate diagnosis but did not perform the correct tests or diagnostics to reach it.
Faulty equipment can also be the grounds for a failure to diagnose a personal injury claim. If medical testing equipment isn't properly configured—or a lab technician communicates incorrect results to your doctor—then there's a risk of being misdiagnosed due to these errors.
A doctor becomes negligent when one or more of these circumstances means that they cannot diagnose you correctly. In the likely event that this incorrect diagnosis causes further harm, it's important to pursue legal options.
If you feel like you've been treated negligently by a doctor, your next step should be to reach out to a personal injury lawyer.
How long do I have to file a failure to diagnose lawsuit?
In Illinois, victims of medical malpractice have two years to file a failure to diagnose lawsuit. This timer begins from the moment a victim learns about their injuries. The injured party must also bring these cases within four years of the act—or improper diagnosis—on which they're basing the claim.
Can I file a failure to diagnose case on behalf of someone else?
That depends. If an incorrectly diagnosed person can consciously discuss the possibility of a case, then we suggest referring them to a medical malpractice lawyer. Speaking to a lawyer will help them understand the severity of their case and what their next steps are.
If a person cannot advocate for themselves, then cases can be brought forward to court by spouses, children, or individuals who have been granted power of attorney. This is another reason why it is important to contact a medical malpractice attorney after being improperly diagnosed; an attorney can continue to advocate even when their clients are unable to.
Failure to Diagnose Lawyers in Chicago, IL
If you or a loved one have been the victim of an improper diagnosis, then we're here for you. Zayed Law Offices has been fighting for victims of medical malpractice since 2009, and we don't rest until our clients get the settlement they deserve. Receive a free failure to diagnose case evaluation today.