Medical Malpractice: Misdiagnosis

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Misdiagnosis is one of the primary reasons why medical malpractice cases are filed. A misdiagnosis can occur when a doctor fails to correctly diagnosis a patient's injury or ailment, delays diagnosis or fails to provide any diagnosis at all, resulting in harm or even death to the patient.

What Should You Do if You Believe You Have Been Misdiagnosed?

Misdiagnosis happens more often than it should. Studies show that diagnostic errors occur in 10-30% of all medical cases. While some of these errors may eventually be caught and cause no harm to the patient, this is not true in all cases. Unfortunately, not all doctors have the same experience, training and knowledge, and medical errors can happen.

We trust doctors to provide accurate information regarding our health. Many of us feel intimidated by doctors and are reluctant to question their opinions. Additionally, few of us have the necessary training or knowledge to determine if a misdiagnosis has occurred.

So what should you do?

Trust your instincts. If you still feel that something is wrong or the diagnosis doesn't fit your symptoms, go back to your doctor. If it is after your doctor's working hours, go to an emergency room or urgent care clinic. If you feel your treating physician just isn't listening to you, or is wrong, then seek a second opinion or ask for a referral to a specialist. Don't assume everything is fine.

The important thing is to take action. If you aren't improving or you suspect that something else is wrong, do not sit around and wait for it to get better — even if your doctor is telling you to do just that.

Under Arizona law, you have a duty to mitigate damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. This means that you must take reasonable steps to prevent additional harm or injury. In the medical malpractice context, mitigating damages means several things. It generally means that as a patient, you have a duty to follow your doctor's orders, including treatment plans such as physical therapy, returning for follow-up appointments and taking prescribed medications appropriately. For example, if a patient breaks his femur and the fracture does not heal correctly, the patient may have contributed to the outcome if he did not complete the physical therapy regimen prescribed by his physician.

Additionally, if you believe something is wrong — even after a doctor may have committed an act of medical malpractice — you have a duty to seek treatment to minimize or eliminate further injury. If you fail to mitigate your damages and suffer additional injury that could have been prevented by seeking appropriate medical attention, you may not be able to recover damages for those injuries. Thus, if you believe your injury or illness has been misdiagnosed, it is essential to take immediate action and seek another medical opinion or further medical treatment in order to protect your health, prevent further harm and preserve your legal rights.

What Can You Do to Prevent Misdiagnosis?

While doctors play the ultimate role in determining the diagnosis of a patient's illness or injury, you can prevent or lessen the chance of misdiagnosis by following some simple rules.

  • Don't be afraid to talk to your doctor. It is vital that you provide your physician with as much information as possible about your condition, symptoms and medical history. Communicate this information clearly to your doctor and provide concise, detailed descriptions. Never assume any small detail is not important.


  • If you have a question, ask it. If you do not understand what your doctor is telling you, ask for a clarification. Make the doctor explain until you understand. If you have questions about your treatment options, medications, or anything else, ask them. This is your health, and you have the right to understand what is going on. You should also ask the doctor what other possible diagnosis there could be for your ailment so you have as much information as possible about your condition.


  • Conduct your own research. You can check medical Web sites like WebMD, the Centers for Disease Control and other internet searches to learn more about your illness or diagnosis. You may even discover that your symptoms do not match the diagnosis you have been given. However, patients should never attempt to self-diagnose. This research should be used to help you understand your condition and become better prepared to ask your doctor questions or request a second opinion.


  • Ask for a second opinion. You should always consider the option of asking for a second opinion or a referral to a specialist. Whether the doctor is not listening to you; you feel there is another explanation for your illness; or you just aren't getting better, it never hurts to have someone else examine you. If both doctors agree about your diagnosis, then perhaps you can have some peace of mind. But if they disagree, then you will know your suspicions were not for nothing.


A medical misdiagnosis can have life-or-death consequences. If you believe you have been misdiagnosed, seek medical attention immediately and contact an attorney about your legal rights.