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What’s a Delayed Diagnosis? Can I Sue for This?


Published in delayed diagnosis on June 15, 2016.

Most people know the meaning of the word “misdiagnosis,” but not everyone has heard of “delayed diagnosis.” While both are classified as medical malpractice, the two terms mean very different things. Misdiagnosis is when a healthcare professional makes an error in judgment about the patient’s condition and wrongly identifies the disease or problem. This leads to prescriptions for the wrong medications, treatment delays, and overall deterioration of health.

Delayed diagnosis, on the other hand, is a more common type of diagnosis error in hospitals. This occurs when the doctor eventually makes the correct diagnosis of a condition, but only after a significant delay. These incidents often happen when doctors hesitate about diagnosing a condition until observing the patient longer or until test and scan results come back.

The Harm of Delayed Diagnosis

Generally, delayed diagnosis doesn’t cause direct injury to patients like other medical malpractices can, such as leaving a foreign object behind during surgery. However, it can cause serious indirect harm. Take, for example, a treatable form of cancer. The sooner a doctor diagnoses it, the more likely it is the patient will survive.

If a patient sees a doctor for abdominal pains and it takes seven months to correctly diagnose it as colon cancer, the patient will have a significantly decreased chance of surviving. In those seven months, the patient could have undergone treatments. Instead, the cancer has more time to metastasize.

In a situation where early diagnosis would have made no difference in patient health and/or mortality, such as a case of terminal cancer, the doctor cannot qualify for negligence even if the diagnosis was delayed. Although the doctor’s actions may still have been negligent, this negligence did not cause the patient’s death; thus, the physician isn’t at fault.

However, in the same scenario, if the patient feasibly would have lived longer or more happily had the doctor diagnosed the issue on time, the doctor would be held liable for malpractice.

When Is Delayed Diagnosis a Medical Malpractice?

Since delayed diagnosis can be a form of medical malpractice, it is possible to sue. However, the patient must prove the delayed diagnosis was due to some form of negligence or carelessness on the doctor’s part. To do this, the patient must demonstrate:

A doctor-patient relationship existed at the time of the diagnosis.

The delayed diagnosis was caused by a doctor’s negligence.

That negligence harmed the patient.

These three must be true to sue for medical malpractice. If the delayed diagnosis was made by a reasonable accident or a similar cause, the doctor won’t be held liable. 

The failure to act quickly enough due to negligence, not exercising reasonable care, or incorrectly performing duties are all signs of medical malpractice in a delayed diagnosis case. If your healthcare provider fails to provide dedicated, skillful service in diagnosing your case and you were harmed because of it, you could sue for damages.

To prove negligence, you must have evidence that the healthcare provider breached the standard of care or completely ignored it and that other reasonably competent doctors would have provided different care under the same circumstances.

Get Help for Your Medical Malpractice Case

Medical malpractice lawsuits in Georgia can be complex and vary considerably from case to case, so it’s essential to get professional advice from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. The attorneys at Nelson & Smith Attorneys at Law have represented plaintiffs in dozens of medical malpractice cases, and we can talk you through the procedure. If you or someone you know has suffered damages or even death due to possible medical malpractice or delayed diagnosis, seek help today.