Nothing describes the human condition better than the ability to solve problems. In fact, many believe that America has been built on the shoulders of exceptional people with tremendous problem-solving skills. But what if you cannot identify the problem? Or what if you incorrectly identify the issue at hand? After all, at its core, the concept of problem solving requires an identification of the problem so that a solution can be implemented.
The practice of medicine is no different. Physicians, nurses, chiropractors, and other health care providers help us solve their medical problems. But to do so, they must accurately identify, or diagnose, the problem. If they don’t, serious harm can result, including injury, illness, and death. In this article, we will discuss the diagnosis process in medicine and what happens if it is not performed correctly.
What is the Diagnostic Process?
To properly treat a patient, doctors and other health care providers must first determine the cause of a patient’s medical problem or condition. The diagnostic process is the procedure followed to arrive at a diagnosis. Different medical resources may illustrate this process with some differences, but there are some common elements we will discuss below.
- Establishing a clinical history: When a patient seeks medical attention, the first step is usually to gather information from the patient. The patient often provides written materials. Additionally, the doctor and other providers in the office (or hospital) typically interview the patient, if possible. Good communication skills are important. Knowing questions to ask and the information to elicit is imperative. A mistake at this stage can doom further efforts.
- Performing a physical exam: A physical exam gives a doctor an opportunity to check for a variety of problems and to observe the patient while doing so. The physical exam gives a medical care provider an opportunity to eliminate certain possible problems from consideration and to determine what additional steps will be needed to make a diagnosis.
- Diagnostic testing: The availability of testing options has skyrocketed over time. Diagnostic testing relies on modalities such as laboratory testing and the use of medical and imaging devices to identify the patient’s problem. Examples might include blood tests, x-rays, and CT scans.
- Expert consultation or referral: Sometimes a doctor reaches a stage where it is determined that the problem does not lie within the doctor’s specialty. At that time, the doctor may refer the patient to a specialist, or seek input from a specialist.
- Diagnosis: After obtaining information, the doctor makes a diagnosis. Sometimes, this process is quick, and sometimes the doctor makes several possible diagnoses that must be considered. Sometimes the doctor is unable to make a diagnosis.
Failure to Diagnose
No doctor wants to make a mistake, but sometimes they do. After obtaining information from a patient, tests, and other sources, the doctor may fail to make a diagnosis that should have been made.
Similarly, a doctor who has all the necessary information may take longer than he or she should to make the diagnosis. Sometimes, this delay can result in a harmful outcome to the patient. Under the law, if a doctor fails to make a diagnosis, but should have been able to do so under the applicable standard of care, he or she can be held liable for resulting harm.
Failure to Diagnose vs. Misdiagnosis
Similarly, incorrect diagnoses, which are different from a failure to diagnose, can lead to harm. Also called misdiagnosis, this occurs when a doctor diagnoses a condition as something other than what it really is. This can not only allow the actual condition to worsen, but can also cause harm resulting from incorrect treatment. In such a situation, the patient can seek relief with a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Errors at any stage of the diagnosis process discussed above may result in medical malpractice.
Call with Questions
If you or a loved one has suffered injury or death due to a health care professional’s inaccurate diagnosis, failure to diagnose, or other negligent conduct, you will almost certainly have questions about your rights. We are here to answer them with a free consultation. The experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield have committed themselves to assisting those who have suffered due to the negligence of others. We believe that holding wrongdoers accountable for their conduct is essential to maintaining the safest society possible.