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Misdiagnosis: Delayed treatment and unnecessary interventions

On Behalf of | Nov 15, 2023 | Medical Malpractice

male doctor giving bad news to male patient

Accurate and timely diagnoses are critical when it comes to making sure that patients get the best possible care.

Unfortunately, misdiagnoses are not uncommon. Every year, roughly 371,000 people die due to misdiagnoses and 424,000 are left with permanent injuries and disabilities. Roughly 6% of the 130 million people who seek emergency care – or 1 out of every 18 patients – get a wrong diagnosis. In the words of one researcher, “Diagnostic errors are, by a wide margin, the most under-resourced public health crisis we face…” There are two main ways that diagnostic errors can lead to patient harm.

Delayed treatment

Perhaps the most significant (and obvious) danger of misdiagnosis is the delay that the patient suffers in obtaining the care they need for their actual condition. For the 17% of stroke victims who are misdiagnosed every year, a delay in treatment could easily mean the difference between life and death. Even in less dire situations, however, a diagnostic error can have serious consequences. For example, if a patient with cancer is misdiagnosed with gastrointestinal issues and treated for those instead, they may lose the last clear chance they have of recovery as their cancer progresses.

Unnecessary treatment

The second way that a misdiagnosis can harm patients is by subjecting them to unnecessary treatments that ultimately have long-term consequences for their well-being. The treatment they receive for a condition they don’t have can do them immense physical and psychological damage.

For example, if someone is misdiagnosed with cancer when they actually have abnormal tissue changes due to an autoimmune disorder and inflammation, they may be subjected to harmful radiation treatments and invasive surgeries that they don’t need. They could end up facing ongoing pain, mobility issues and additional medical interventions to manage the consequences – and that’s on top of still needing to have their true condition treated.

Healthcare providers have a responsibility to conduct thorough patient evaluations, perform the appropriate tests and make sure that they consider multiple diagnostic modalities so that they can differentiate between one condition and another. If you’ve been harmed after a misdiagnosis, it may be time to consider seeking legal guidance.