Texas Personal Injury Law Blog

The Medical Misdiagnosis Crisis and You

Although most doctors insist that medical misdiagnosis is not a serious problem, according to one study, misdiagnosis occurs in about one in five serious illness cases. That error rate is unacceptably high, especially given the lofty standard of care that underpins doctor-patient relationships.

A personal injury attorney may be able to obtain substantial compensation in misdiagnosis cases. This compensation can include money for economic losses, such as revision surgery medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additionally, Harris County juries are permitted to award punitive damages in some medical malpractice claims. These damages punish the defendant’s wrongful conduct and deter future misdeeds.

However, not every case of medical malpractice is equal. Over the years, Texas lawmakers have adopted a number of tort reform measures, like damage caps and procedural hurdles such as strict expert reports. These obstacles are usually difficult, but not necessarily impossible, to overcome.

What Causes Medical Misdiagnosis?

Lack of information, and lack of confirmation, is the root cause of most medical misdiagnosis claims.

Once upon a time, doctor-patient relationships rested on communication. But that’s no longer the case. Today, most doctors listen to most patients for eleven seconds before they interrupt them. A doctor’s busy schedule, especially in sprawling urban areas like Houston, does not allow for physician-patient dialogue. 

With such little data, it’s almost impossible to make a proper diagnosis based on the patient’s symptoms. So, most doctors look for red flags, issue a boilerplate diagnosis, and then move on to the next patient. Many times, this reflexive diagnosis is incorrect.

To confirm their diagnoses, physicians can order a number of sophisticated diagnostic tests. But many times, they do not order these tests at all or do not take full advantage of the information they produce.

Some doctors do not order tests, or at least do not order a full range of tests, because they are afraid the insurance company will not pay for them. 

Other doctors do not carefully review test results. They may assign such tasks to nurses or technicians. These professionals obviously do not have medical degrees, so they may be unqualified to perform such reviews. Other times, data simply gets lost in translation.

Even when they do see test results themselves, the results are subject to interpretation. They disregard any information that goes against their gut feelings.

Five Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions

Doctors can misdiagnose any condition at any time, but the most commonly misdiagnosed illnesses are:

  • Cancer: Since the 1990s, cancer survival rates have increased significantly. But successful treatment depends on successful, and early, diagnosis. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case in these situations. Many doctors only diagnose cancer if the patient has a certain lifestyle (e.g. smokers often get lung cancer) or a relevant family history. According to some sources, the cancer misdiagnosis rate may be twice the average misdiagnosis rate.
  • Heart Attack: Given the aforementioned lack of information, many doctors rely on red flags to diagnose serious illnesses. But heart attack victims do not always show the same symptoms. For example, many women do not experience debilitating chest pains. So, doctors often misdiagnose heart attacks as indigestion or anxiety. That’s a potentially lethal error.
  • Depression: There is a difference between situational depression, which usually passes in time, and clinical depression, which persists unless it is treated. In fact, clinical depression usually gets worse unless a doctor counteracts it. As a result, many patients spend months or years in a depressed state until they get the help they need.
  • Fibromyalgia: This disease has symptoms, like joint pain and muscle aches, which often overlap with arthritis and other maladies. But there is a very big difference among treatment regimens.
  • Stroke: Much like many doctors consider cancer a lifestyle or genetic disease, many doctors believe that stroke is an age-related condition. The recent stroke-related death of 52-year-old actor Luke Perry may change the culture of misdiagnosis in this area. But only time will tell.

Emergency Room Misdiagnosis of Vitamin B Deficiency

Another all-to-often misdiagnosed condition is Vitamin B deficiency leading to following weight loss surgery (gastric bypass surgery.)  When a person is not getting proper nutrients, which can often occur after a weight loss surgery, they can begin to suffer early symptoms of a very serious condition known as Wernike-Korsakoff Syndrome. When they present at the emergency room or other doctor with these warning signs, a failure to take a detailed history and recognize the need for a simple blood panel can result in catastrophic injuries to the individual patient.

Medical Standard of Care

In all these situations, doctors have a high duty of care. They have extensive training in this area, and patients are completely dependent on them for all medical care issues. As a result, what may pass for a simple mistake in other contexts is a lack of ordinary care, if the error affects the patient’s health.

Free Consultation

If your doctor failed to properly diagnose a condition, you are not alone. You may have legal rights. For a free consultation with an attorney in Houston, contact Simmons & Fletcher, P.C. Our main office is conveniently located near the Katy Freeway/Sam Houston Tollway intersection.

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Author

Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.