Medical malpractice is a serious violation of the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath, which ensures his commitment to protecting patients’ safety as a top priority. However, not all poor performance on a doctor’s part rises to the legal threshold of “malpractice,” which has a precise definition under the law.

Misdiagnosis, especially in rare diseases or diseases that share symptoms in common with others, is a common failure of the medical system. In some cases, misdiagnosis might meet the threshold for medical malpractice (potentially qualifying patients for compensation under civil law). In other cases, a misdiagnosis is not sufficient to count as medical malpractice in the eyes of the law. Here is what you need to know about when a doctor’s misdiagnosis counts as malpractice.

What Types of Misdiagnosis May Healthcare Providers Be Liable For?

Sometimes, a misdiagnosis or a missed diagnosis is not your doctor’s fault. They may not have had all the information they needed, or medical knowledge may simply not be advanced enough for them to catch everything. However, sometimes, there truly was more they could have done or they could have done something different to arrive at the correct diagnosis. In this case, their negligence could count as medical malpractice. A medical misdiagnosis can come in many forms.

Delayed Diagnosis

A delayed diagnosis occurs when the doctor eventually arrives at the correct diagnosis but only after a significant time period, which may jeopardize the patient’s health or life. An example of this would be if a patient reports symptoms or a doctor recognizes them, but the doctor does not follow that up by ordering the relevant tests in a timely manner. This could also occur if test results are lost and not redone quickly or if a doctor does not send a patient to a specialist when they should. 

However, it would not count as a delayed diagnosis if a patient simply delayed getting treatment or reporting their symptoms.

Missed Diagnosis

A missed diagnosis occurs when the doctor fails to recognize the signs of an illness or condition and so does not make any diagnosis related to the condition. This is very similar to a delayed diagnosis, but in this case, your doctor never recognizes your condition. For example, you might report symptoms, but your doctor may simply write them off as nothing serious. To get your diagnosis, you would likely have to go to another doctor for a second opinion. 

Wrong Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis

A wrong diagnosis or misdiagnosis occurs when the doctor assesses the symptoms presented by the patient and arrives at an incorrect diagnosis. The patient is then treated for a condition they do not have and does not receive proper treatment for their actual condition. In some cases, the incorrect treatment could even harm you or make your condition worse, even beyond simply delaying treatment.

In each of the above cases, the doctor may be legally liable for misdiagnosis. There are other types of diagnostic mistakes that doctors may be held responsible for. For example, while they may give you the correct diagnosis in a reasonable amount of time, they may fail to notice complications that arise, or they may fail to diagnose a second disease, either related or unrelated. 

How Is a Patient Typically Misdiagnosed?

A misdiagnosis can result from misreading lab test results or a failure to refer a patient to an appropriate specialist for follow-up, to do appropriate tests, or to adequately follow up with a patient. Misdiagnoses are also more likely to happen in emergency room settings. Because there’s more pressure for doctors and other medical staff to act quickly, they have less time to make a proper diagnosis. This could lead to a missed diagnosis, especially in patients who are suffering from multiple conditions, or to a misdiagnosis.

How Do You Prove Negligence?

In the legal realm, proving negligence is the critical factor that a successful malpractice—or any other type of personal injury—suit hinges upon. The victim must adequately prove the doctor acted negligently in their misdiagnosis to qualify for legal compensation. To qualify as negligence, you must be able to prove that the doctor had a responsibility to you, that another reasonably competent doctor would have been able to make the proper diagnosis faster, and that the misdiagnosis caused damages.

Because this is so difficult to prove, you’ll likely need the assistance of a medical malpractice lawyer. They have experience with this type of personal injury, which means they can recognize negligence more easily than you might be able to on your own. A lawyer will be able to help you get the compensation you need after a misdiagnosis impacts your recovery. Additionally, you can let them focus on the work while you focus on getting well again.

Is Medical Malpractice a Crime?

The damages to the patient resulting from medical malpractice can be severe, but even so, not every instance of malpractice constitutes a criminal act. In fact, most cases do not meet the threshold necessary for criminal prosecution. In these cases, the doctor or healthcare provider is liable under civil law (tort) but not under criminal law, meaning that the possibility of jail time or other criminal penalties is off the table. However, you will still get compensation for your needs.

Medical malpractice is a serious issue. Your doctor has a responsibility to you to heal you to the best of their abilities. If they are neglectful in that responsibility and it results in pain and suffering for you or your family, then you can get compensation. The laws vary by jurisdiction regarding malpractice, but, throughout the United States, the critical factor is proving negligence.