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What’s the difference between misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2023 | Failure to Diagnose

People who are experiencing signs of an illness or worrisome medical condition rely on doctors to diagnose them so that they can get any care that they might need. For example, a doctor’s diagnosis will be necessary if someone expects to obtain prescription medication or secure a referral to a specialist.

The average physician has extensive training on how to analyze people’s symptoms and arrive at an appropriate diagnosis. Unfortunately, diagnostic errors remain a major issue in modern healthcare. Despite how similar they may sound when said out loud, missed diagnosis and misdiagnosis are actually two very distinct forms of diagnostic failure. What is the difference?

Missed diagnosis involves total diagnostic failure

Sometimes, a patient talks to their doctor and describes symptoms they find worrisome. However, their doctor dismisses their symptoms and claims that they have no reason to worry. When doctors determine that there is no issue and send someone home without providing them with diagnostic services or treatment, what happened is a misdiagnosis.

The patient actually does have a medical condition that may turn up when a different doctor treats that patient or when they undergo an autopsy. However, the doctor who they asked for help overlooked their symptoms and failed to diagnose them.

Misdiagnosis involves the wrong conclusion

Sometimes, the mistake that a doctor makes is not that they rejected a patient’s reported symptoms and determine that they have no health issues at all but rather that they reached the wrong conclusion about what causes someone’s symptoms.

An example would involve a doctor diagnosing a patient with a common cold when they have lung cancer after years of tobacco consumption. Doctors that reach the wrong conclusion regarding the cause of someone’s condition may recommend that that patient undergo unnecessary medical interventions and may delay the patient’s access to the necessary treatment for the true health issue that they have.

Both missed diagnosis and misdiagnosis may give rise to grounds upon which to file medical malpractice claims. Provided that another doctor would have ordered additional testing or otherwise taken different diagnostic steps, a patient may have grounds to hold a doctor accountable for their diagnostic errors. Recognizing diagnosis-related medical malpractice when it happens is crucial for patients who hope to seek justice. Seeking legal guidance can help patients who are unsure of whether they are victims of a diagnostic error to receive clarity about their situation.