Have You Suffered a Medical Misdiagnosis?

Have You Suffered a Medical Misdiagnosis?

A medical misdiagnosis can have dire consequences, potentially resulting in a poor outcome, reduced life expectancy, and prolonged pain and suffering. If this has happened to you or your loved one, please contact us now for expert legal advice. You could be entitled to pursue a medical negligence claim against those at fault.

Common types of misdiagnosis in Ireland

Misdiagnoses typically fall into one of three categories:
1. Misdiagnosed injuries
2. Misdiagnosed medical emergencies
3. Misdiagnosed chronic illnesses

Misdiagnosed injuries

GP surgeries and A&E waiting rooms are full of people who have sustained some kind of injury. It is the duty of the attending medical practitioners to investigate these injuries in full, and to carry out any tests that may be needed to confirm a diagnosis. A treatment plan should then be determined based on the results of these tests.

Unfortunately, this level of care is not always provided. It is surprising just how many injuries go undetected. A patient may have to seek medical attention twice, three times or even more in order to secure the correct diagnosis. In the meantime, their injury is left untreated, causing ongoing pain and suffering. The delay in treatment may also affect the ultimate outcome.

Example of a misdiagnosed injury

Take a fractured bone sustained following a fall, for example. The attending medical practitioner should note a patient’s symptoms of pain and swelling, and the fact that he has recently fallen over. This should prompt the doctor to order some x-rays, which should then be assessed by an experienced radiologist.

But what happens if the treating medical practitioner dismisses the idea that a bone has been broken? Then, x-rays are not carried out and the patient is sent home with a missed fracture. He continues his day-to-day life, suffering through the pain. He doesn’t go back to hospital for several weeks because he has been told the bone isn’t broken.

Eventually, he seeks medical help once again. This time x-rays confirm a fracture. But by now the bone has fused together in the wrong place. Consequently, surgery is needed to re-align the bone. This results in a prolonged recovery time, an operation and an underlying weakness – all of which could have been avoided, had the fracture been correctly diagnosed when the patient first attended hospital.

Common types of misdiagnosed injuries

Injuries that are commonly misdiagnosed include:
• Fractures
• Head injuries
• Spinal injuries
• Ruptured tendons
• Torn ligaments
• Birth injuries, particularly perineal tears
• Eye injuries

Misdiagnosed medical emergencies

Medical emergencies are precisely that: an emergency. A correct diagnosis must be quickly obtained. This ensures medical staff are able to start the right form of treatment straightaway. Only with this timely action does a patient stand a chance of making a recovery, whether in full or in part.

Yet there are times when medical emergencies are misdiagnosed. Typically, a patient presents with symptoms, but these are misinterpreted by the GP or hospital staff. The patient is then either sent home, or is treated for an entirely different medical issue. Their condition therefore deteriorates, potentially with disastrous consequences.

Example of a misdiagnosed medical emergency

Just imagine a case of appendicitis. Appendicitis is by no means unusual, but it is frequently misdiagnosed. What happens is that the patient presents to their GP or A&E department complaining of abdominal pain, possibly with vomiting and a fever. These symptoms are red flags and should quickly lead medical practitioners to investigate the possibility of appendicitis.

But instead of further diagnostic tests being carried out – or the patient being kept in hospital for monitoring – she is wrongly diagnosed with another illness such as gastroenteritis. She returns home but rapidly gets worse, suffering increasing pain, a high fever and more vomiting. Eventually, her appendix ruptures, causing the infection to spread across her abdomen.

Without immediate treatment, a ruptured appendix is fatal. Treatment involves open abdominal surgery, rather than keyhole surgery (as would have been the case, had she been diagnosed earlier). She will be extremely unwell, will have a prolonged recovery time and a significant scar across her abdomen. All of these outcomes could have been avoided, had the appendicitis been correctly diagnosed in the first instance.

Common types of misdiagnosed medical emergencies

Medical emergencies that are commonly misdiagnosed include:
• Appendicitis
• Ectopic pregnancy
• Ruptured bowel
• Sepsis
• Meningitis
• Brain haemorrhage
• Cauda equina syndrome
• Heart attack
• Organ damage sustained during surgery
• Pulmonary embolism

Misdiagnosed chronic illnesses
A chronic illness can also be described as a long-term illness. It is not a medical emergency, and so does not require treatment within 24-36 hours of symptoms appearing. But nevertheless, a timely diagnosis is needed to alleviate the patient’s discomfort, and to secure the best possible outcome.

If an ongoing illness is not diagnosed, the patient’s condition will likely worsen, making it harder to treat. This might mean that treatment is ultimately ineffective. Or it might mean that more extensive treatment is needed, something which could have been avoided, had the illness been identified earlier.

Example of a misdiagnosed chronic illness
Many misdiagnosis cases relate to cancer. A patient may report certain symptoms, often returning again and again to their GP, only to be repeatedly misdiagnosed. The treating medical practitioner may mistake the symptoms for something else, perhaps dismissing the idea of cancer due to the patient’s age, or simply due to ignorance.

Of course, what a GP should do is to send a patient for testing, in order to rule out the possibility of cancer. If this is not done, then the cancer will remain undetected for weeks, months or even years. Alternatively, it could be that the patient is sent for testing, but the results are lost, misreported or misinterpreted.

When it comes to cancer, it is generally the case that the faster treatment is carried out, the more hopeful the outcome will be. If cancer is left to its own devices, it will grow and spread across the body, making it increasingly difficult to treat. Once it is discovered, medical practitioners may have no choice but to perform aggressive and/or invasive treatment. Or, it may be too late. This will be heart-breaking for the patient, as this bleak prognosis could have been avoided, had the cancer been detected in the early stages when he/she initially sought medical help.

Common types of misdiagnosed chronic illnesses
Chronic illnesses that are commonly misdiagnosed include:
• Cancer
• Diabetes/gestational diabetes
• Kidney disease
• Pregnancy complications
• Crohn’s Disease

What are the effects of being misdiagnosed?

As the examples described above highlight, the effects of a misdiagnosis can be catastrophic. It can cause the patient:
• A prolonged period of pain and suffering
• The need to undergo more extensive treatment
• A poor outcome
• Long-term injuries and scarring
• Psychological distress
• Fatal complications

If a patient does survive a misdiagnosis, the delay in treatment may continue to impact their lives in the long-run. For instance, a missed wrist fracture can limit a person’s ability to carry out their job, meaning they have to seek alternative employment. A delayed diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome, whereby the nerves in the lower back are compressed, can result in paralysis, sexual dysfunction and bowel dysfunction. Clearly, this will impact every area of a person’s life, affecting the career, relationships and hobbies.

All of this can also have a devastating effect on the patient’s family. Relatives and friends may need to acts as carers, or take on additional responsibilities. This can also damage the family’s finances, especially if the patient is forced to give up work.

Along with the physical and financial implications, there will no doubt be a degree of psychological harm. The patient will probably feel anger towards those responsible for the misdiagnosis. Knowing that the outcome could have been different will be hard to accept, and may result in resentment, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Can misdiagnosis be malpractice?

If this has happened to you or your loved one, you might be wondering whether the medical practitioners in question have acted negligently. The easiest way to answer this question is to contact us at Gibson & Associates for legal advice. We can advise whether you have been the unfortunate recipient of substandard medical care. We can also say whether you are legally entitled to pursue a claim for compensation.
Before you contact us, you might be interested to know exactly when a misdiagnosis will amount to medical malpractice. Essentially, it all comes down to whether another competent medical practitioner would also have misdiagnosed the same illness or injury.

So, if you attended A&E with a recent history of trauma and pain/swelling in your limb, would another A&E doctor also have failed to order an x-ray? If another competent doctor would have reached the same conclusion in the same circumstances, then there has not been a case of malpractice. But if another competent doctor would have taken a different course of action, then the standard of care has fallen to an unacceptable level.

If the medical care you receive was substandard, then you could be in a position to make a medical negligence claim – but only if you have suffered some kind of harm. Occasionally, a misdiagnosis will not have any bearing on the final outcome. It could be that while the diagnosis was delayed slightly, a correct diagnosis was achieved quickly enough to avert adverse consequences. Or, it could be that the timing of treatment is not urgent, so a delay would not influence the patient’s condition.

However, it is very likely that a misdiagnosis will cause you some kind of injury, be it physical, emotional or financial. If so, you could be entitled to compensation for your damages.

What should I do if I think I was misdiagnosed?

If you think you have suffered because of a medical misdiagnosis, we urge you to contact our solicitors as soon as possible. You could have grounds for a medical negligence claim. This allows you to take action against those responsible, ensuring that you are properly compensated for the damages that you have wrongfully experienced.

It can be difficult to understand exactly why mistakes were made, and whether anyone is to blame. Medical practitioners and hospitals rarely admit fault, meaning you may be left with many unanswered questions. We can clarify your legal position, explaining whether you have been the victim of medical malpractice.

Medical negligence claims are subject to a time limit, so we recommend that you contact us at the earliest available opportunity.
For a no obligation enquiry with a specialist medical negligence solicitor, please complete our online enquiry form, or phone us on 01 872 3143 today.

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