What Conditions Are Most…

One of the most engaging plotlines on TV medical dramas involves a patient who is brought into the hospital, often at death’s door, with a mystery condition. Sometimes it’s a condition with a rapid, dramatic onset. Sometimes the patient has been under treatment for months or years with multiple doctors, getting worse and worse despite ongoing efforts. Invariably, though, one of the young medical staff has the time, resources, and insight to solve the medical mystery by the end of the hour and save the patient. And almost always, the disease identified is a rare one, overlooked by previous doctors.

In real life, things don’t often work out that way. About the only part that rings true is a patient seeking treatment for symptoms for a long time without relief. Often, doctors don’t take (or have) the time to accurately assess what is really going on with a patient. Shamefully, many patients (often women and/or people of color) are told that the pain is in their head or that they need to lose weight, or are accused of drug-seeking.

Even when a patient hasn’t been suffering for weeks or months, an illness with a sudden onset can be misdiagnosed—frequently with tragic consequences. And perhaps surprisingly, the most misdiagnosed medical conditions are not those that are rare, but some of the most common.

How Common is Medical Misdiagnosis?

According to AARP, 12 million adults are misdiagnosed annually in medical settings; that’s about five percent of patients (and, of course, doesn’t include all of the children who may be getting misdiagnosed). It’s estimated that between 40,000 and 80,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year due to misdiagnosis.

All of this adds up to a pretty good chance that most people will be misdiagnosed at some time in their lives. But just because medical misdiagnosis is common doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And while many misdiagnoses are minor or corrected before they cause harm, some are lethal or cause permanent harm, and constitute medical malpractice.

Medical Conditions That Are Most Often Misdiagnosed

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the ten most commonly misdiagnosed medical conditions are:

  1. Colorectal cancer
  2. Lung cancer
  3. Breast cancer
  4. Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  5. Prostate cancer
  6. Stroke
  7. Sepsis
  8. Bladder cancer
  9. Pulmonary embolism
  10. Brain hemorrhage

Most of those are conditions we have all heard of, and you have almost certainly known someone who was diagnosed with one of these conditions. What would have happened if they were misdiagnosed? In the case of an acute illness such as a heart attack, they might not have survived, or might have suffered greater damage or disability than if they were diagnosed in a timely fashion.

In the case of cancer, they might have become ineligible for certain treatments, suffered unnecessarily, and had their life shortened. “Loss of chance” is a phrase used when a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis decreases the likelihood that a patient will survive an illness; the patient may not have survived even if diagnosed promptly, but the delay in diagnosis further reduced their chances of survival.

Part of the reason the illnesses on the list above are among the most commonly misdiagnosed is that they are among the most common illnesses. Many illnesses have symptoms in common with other illnesses. For instance, a headache could be a symptom of dehydration, stress, high blood pressure, migraine, or a brain tumor. It wouldn’t be reasonable for a doctor to run a CT scan on every patient who came for a first visit complaining of headaches.

That said, there are some circumstances in which a doctor’s failure to properly diagnose an illness is a result of their not following the standard of care—in other words, acting as a reasonable doctor would act under similar circumstances. A doctor who refused to order a CT scan for a patient who has experienced months of worsening headaches, increasing visual disturbances, nausea and balance issues might be liable for medical malpractice.

What to Do if You Have Been Misdiagnosed

If you have been misdiagnosed, or you suffered a delayed diagnosis, it is possible that you have a claim for medical malpractice. The best way to know for sure is to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A knowledgeable attorney will never encourage you to file a claim that does not have merit. Malpractice cases are difficult to prove, so be sure to consult an attorney with extensive experience in these cases for sound advice.

If your claim does have merit, however, it is important to file it promptly. There is a statute of limitations that applies in these cases. If a case is filed beyond the statute of limitations, it cannot succeed, no matter how strong the facts.

A successful claim for medical malpractice due to misdiagnosis cannot restore your health or truly compensate you for months or years of suffering. But it can help to cover your medical expenses and the financial losses you suffered due to your misdiagnosis, and make life a bit easier and more comfortable. To learn more about filing a claim for medical malpractice for a misdiagnosed illness, contact The Fraser Law Firm P.C. to schedule a consultation.