As a society, we place quite the onus on our medical professionals, and rightly so — we place our very lives in their care. But the reality is that physicians and their staff are only human, and humans do occasionally make mistakes. Even the equipment our doctors rely on goes through many human hands before it comes into use. These mistakes, however, can take a crippling toll on a patient’s life and livelihood and any affected individuals will surely turn to tort law to secure their quality of life in the aftermath.
Misdiagnosis and Malpractice
A misdiagnosis, or a late diagnosis, can easily allow a treatable condition to accelerate into something far more severe. This is especially true with cancer patients, as the disease requires early and effective management to allow for the best possible prognosis. Any delay can easily move the case into the realm of “lost chance” cases, where a person may have had the opportunity to prevent metastasis, for example, but missed their opportunity to do so. While the consequences are grave, it’s important to note that misdiagnosis does not immediately equate to malpractice, as malpractice requires the establishment of three basic facts:
• There was, at the time, an established doctor-patient relationship.
• The doctor was negligent and did not provide competent treatment.
• This negligence caused measurable harm to the patient.
Negligence, in this case, is typically established by comparing the actions of the physician in question to the actions considered reasonable by physicians within the same field or specialty. If it can be shown that other physicians would have tested for a given diagnosis, this tends to draw a clear line of liability to the physician that did not, and, therefore, missed the diagnosis.
The Role of Diagnostic Errors
Sometimes, however, the fault lies with the diagnostic tools and methods, themselves. Mammograms, for example, are known to produce a certain number of “false negatives” that can delay appropriate treatment. Conversely, a prostate screening that produces a “false positive” could land a patient in a world of radiation treatments they don’t need to endure. If the equipment itself is to blame, or if the individuals handling the tests or their results make a mistake that leads to incorrect diagnosis, any fault in a resulting malpractice case shifts accordingly — physicians are not responsible for missed diagnoses that result from properly ordered tests that provide incorrect results.
How to Protect Your Practice
Whether it is a result of faulty equipment or an honest error, accidents and mistakes do occur, and both doctors and their patients owe it to themselves to ensure they are properly safeguarded. Our nation’s legal system weighs in to make sure that the rights of the patient are protected in the event of real cases of malpractice — medical malpractice insurance companies like Oros Risk exist to ensure that our practitioners are protected as well. Both sides work to facilitate an environment where everyone has access to appropriate care, and every medical professional can provide it without having to worry about inappropriate or unnecessary litigation.
Evan Maukonen is a freelance writer and professional student who contributes articles and insights into the challenges of a complex world, frequently circulating advice of particular interest to the aspiring small business owner.