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Diagnostic Errors Are Among the Hardest to Identify

Diagnostic ErrorsOver the last several decades, our society as a whole has taken a much closer look at the level of care offered by doctors, nurses, and hospital systems. Doomsday headlines about medical mistakes are common enough that it could make virtually anyone think twice about even seeing a doctor. While many complain about the litigious nature of modern American, medical malpractice lawsuits may have played a role in forcing the medical community to improve processes and safety protocols so as to reduce the likelihood of mistakes. Since the mid-1980s, medication errors, mistaken patients, mixed-up surgical sites, retained surgical tools, and infections during hospital stays have decreased dramatically. There has been much slower progress, however, on another front, as missed diagnoses and other diagnostic errors may harm patients, but they are often much harder to identify and prove.

The Diagnostic Process

Television shows seem to promise that the right “genius” doctor—such as Dr. Shaun Murphy on The Good Doctor or the titular Dr. Gregory House—will always figure out what is ailing a patient before it is too late. House M.D., in particular, depicted the use of differential diagnosis, where doctors compile a list of all possible diseases that could explain a patient’s symptoms then conduct tests to rule out illnesses until a solution is found. The process is one that is well-established in the practice of medicine, but it is not always where diagnostic errors occur.

The fact of the matter is that pathologists and other medical professionals can make mistakes during the tests themselves. A pathologist who examines tissue cells under a microscope may fail to detect cancer cells, for example. In this real-world case, the patient’s doctor ordered the right tests, the tests came back negative, so the doctor failed to diagnose a 42-year-old patient with cancer in a timely manner, and the patient ultimately died.

The Conflict of Confidence

Doctors, in general, are highly educated, confident individuals. They know that their patients rely on them for answers. A history of success can lead to a sense of invincibility and not only a hesitance to admit mistakes but also the inability to recognize when a mistake has been made. When a mistake is large to overlook, many doctors experience severe guilt and work to hide the error both to save face and to avoid potential liability. Mistakes are often not logged, reported, or discussed.

In order to study why and how mistakes happen, they must be logged and talked about openly. Unfortunately, the thought of doing so generates the fear of expensive lawsuits, even when dealing with groundbreaking medical procedures and technology. Doctors are human and mistakes are going to happen from time to time, especially considering the rate at which medical knowledge is expanding in today’s world. The practice of medicine becomes more complex every day, and the only way to get better is to admit when a mistake has been made and to learn from it.

Recognizing Medical Malpractice

Not every mistake or diagnostic error rises to the level of medical malpractice. In California, a doctor can only be found liable for malpractice if the care he or she provides is substandard compared to that offered by other doctors of similar age, training, and experience.

If you or a loved one has been affected by a delayed or missed diagnosis, an experienced San Jose medical malpractice attorney can help you analyze your situation and your available options. Call (408) 289-1417 for a free consultation at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. today.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.