When Doctors Miss a Diagnosis, It Can Hit You Hard

Doctor with face in his hands

When doctors make a mistake, such as missing a critical diagnosis of cancer, it can hit you hard. You count on your doctor to help you correctly identify a physical ailment or the root cause of a condition. You want that diagnosis in a timely fashion so that your illness, injury or condition is treated correctly and promptly. A delay or failure to diagnose your condition in a timely manner could lead to complications, the worsening of a disease or other serious problem, and lower your chances of a full recovery.

Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is one of the most common types of medical malpractice and happens far more frequently than most people realize.

Statistics Related to Misdiagnosis

According to The Wall Street Journal, approximately 160,000 patients per year fall victim to diagnostic errors and doctor mistakes that can leave a patient with permanent injury or an avoidable loss of life. Diagnostic problems have accounted for close to 35 percent of the $39 billion in malpractice claim payouts between 1986 and 2010.

Out of 190 primary-care cases reviewed in a recent study, 68 were indicated as being misdiagnosed by the treating physician. Of these, 6.7 percent involved a failure to properly diagnose pneumonia, 5.7 percent involved a misdiagnosis of congestive heart failure, 5.3 percent were for a missed acute kidney failure, 5.3 percent for cancer and 4.8 percent for a failure to diagnose a urinary tract infection. The primary cause of the misdiagnosis: a breakdown somewhere in the patient-practitioner encounter.

While misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses result in no harm, very little harm or only a degree of inconvenience in five percent of the cases, considerable damage is found and extensive treatment is needed in 38 percent of cases of a physician misdiagnosis. Very serious harm or permanent damage occurs in 16 percent of cases. Significant or widespread permanent damage occurs in 19 percent of those cases, and death occurs in 14 percent of them.

Most Misdiagnoses are Preventable

Misdiagnosis is preventable in the majority of situations, often occurring when doctors and other medical staff are negligent. A doctor who fails to conduct a complete examination on a woman who is complaining of painful cramps, difficulty eating, bloating and urinary problems, could be missing symptoms of ovarian cancer. A doctor who diagnoses a child’s persistent headache and consistent vomiting as a viral infection, without ordering additional tests, could be putting that child’s life at risk. Losing test results, failing to review tests in a timely manner, failing to consider or test for potential conditions or failing to follow up with patients, may result in a diagnosis with catastrophic or fatal results.

Minimizing the Risk of a Misdiagnosis

In an effort to prevent costly diagnostic mistakes, many hospitals and other health care facilities are turning to computers and automation to help minimize the risk of misdiagnosis. Methods by which the risk of a dangerous misdiagnosis can be reduced include:

  • Opting for digital records to allow for easier access and coordination between doctors;
  • Using algorithms to sort through patient records and spot signs of potential at-risk patients;
  • Employing tests and other actions designed to better identify symptoms; and
  • Providing doctors with online medical assistance.

The Wall Street Journal reports that additional actions which are being taken include:

  • Implementation of a new health care law requiring providers to coordinate care;
  • Conducting a study on the impact diagnostic errors have on U.S. health care;
  • Determining how to identify instances of misdiagnosis or medical error which are often left undetected until becoming the subject of a lawsuit;
  • Improving and adapting new curriculum to train new doctors and medical staff; and
  • Data mining for signs of serious conditions which may have been missed.

Once these actions are put into effect, the hope is that there will be a significant reduction in misdiagnoses and other medical errors, and higher level of patient recovery.

At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, our attorney has handled cases where there has been a negligent failure to diagnose by a health care provider and serious injury has resulted. We rely on our experience, the review of a nurse and experts to help determine whether the claim that a patient has been misdiagnosed is the result of medical negligence. If you think that you have suffered a significant harm as a result of the failure to diagnose, contact us and we will try to give you answers to your questions.


Injured patients and their families need solid legal guidance after a serious medical error. At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, we listen attentively to our clients’ questions and concerns. Our goal is to help them move forward after devastating, even fatal medical errors.