Most patients put a lot of trust in their doctors. After all, medical professionals have an extensive education that enables them to provide diagnostic assistance and treatment for a wide range of illnesses and injuries. Diagnosis is one of the most important functions that a doctor performs for their patients.
Much of medical school training has to do with the process of making a diagnosis. Unfortunately for patients, some doctors fail in this critical task.
Delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose are issues that can have profound consequences for the patients involved. Depending on the injury or illness, delays can result in a far worse prognosis or limit the patient's quality of life and ability to work.
How do doctors diagnose patients?
If you believe what medical dramas show you on television, you might think that any patient presenting strange symptoms will immediately receive the attention of a specialist and a battery of expensive, complicated tests. In reality, the diagnostic process is often lengthy and difficult.
It typically starts with a visit either to an emergency room or a primary care physician. That doctor will take note of the patient's reported symptoms and begin the process of excluding reasons for your condition or seeking an affirmative diagnosis.
There are two kinds of diagnostic outcomes, which are a diagnosis of exclusion or an affirmative diagnosis. If a doctor takes a swab of your throat and cultures it for strep bacteria, a positive test will be an affirmative diagnosis.
Other conditions do not have such obvious tests available. Instead, doctors will need to systematically rule out other potential medical conditions that could cause the same symptoms. When all other conditions have been ruled out, the doctor can then provide a diagnosis of exclusion.
Unfortunately, some doctors make assumptions. They may assume that the symptoms are from a simple and easy-to-treat condition, as opposed to something serious, such as cancer. Whether a doctor fails to perform adequate tests or ignores patient-reported symptoms, a failure to diagnose can have catastrophic consequences.
When doctors fail you, you have rights as a patient
Receiving at a timely diagnosis can make all the difference for patients facing serious medical conditions. This is particularly true for progressive diseases, such as cancer or severe infections.
A patient who receives a quick diagnosis and treatment right away will likely have a better outcome and require less medical intervention than someone who has to wait weeks or months for the right diagnosis.
If your doctor failed to diagnose a condition despite your reporting symptoms that would have led to an accurate diagnosis, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim based on a delayed diagnosis or a failure to diagnose.
Each case is unique, so you might want to obtain a copy of your medical record to determine if the documentation provided by your doctor will support your claim. If it does, it may be time to learn more about medical malpractice lawsuits and claims.