What is failure to diagnose, and how does it hurt patients

When people think of medical malpractice, they often imagine a surgeon leaving a tool inside a patient or perhaps operating on the wrong area of the body. They may also think of prescription drug or medication mistakes, such as debilitating interactions between two prescribed medications. Fewer people realize that doctors can engage in malpractice by mistakes of omission, not just commission.

A doctor doesn't have to directly cause you bodily harm to have committed an act of medical malpractice. Failing to diagnose someone seeking treatment who later dies or experiences life-altering consequences as a result of that failure is also a form negligence and thus, of medical malpractice. It is tragically common, especially for certain groups of people.

Failure to diagnose means failing a patient

People seek medical evaluation when their symptoms are serious. They could impact daily life, quality of life, the ability to work or a person's overall well-being. One of the most difficult parts of medical education is the process of learning how to diagnose a patient's condition accurately.

In order to do so, more obvious reasons for the symptoms get eliminated. This is called a diagnosis of exclusion, which happens when there's no clear cut test to determine the cause of symptoms. In some cases, tests, from blood lab work to imaging, can provide an affirmative diagnosis. When a doctor fails to accurately determine the cause of symptoms, it can leave patients vulnerable to worsening symptoms or even death.

Women and overweight patients are at higher risk

Studies have shown that doctors often fail to take self-reported symptoms seriously from certain people. Women are one of these groups. Due to a misconception on the part of some medical practitioners that women complain more or tolerate pain poorly, they may not take self-reported symptoms from women seriously. Researchers in the United Kingdom found a serious discrepancy between men and women diagnosed with conditions that lead to heart attacks.

Research and anecdotes make it clear that doctors also fail to properly examine and diagnose many people who are severely overweight or obese. They may fall into the trap of assigning blame for every symptom to the patient's excess weight instead of pursuing other potential causes for serious symptoms and issues.

Failure to diagnose can cost patients a lot over time

When a patient with a serious condition doesn't receive a diagnosis, it can result in permanent issues. For example, the patient may require more invasive treatments, such as surgery, to correct the issue. They may lose out on pay because they are not able to work. In some cases, a patient who didn't receive a diagnosis could die, depriving one's family of the love, company and financial contributions.

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