UNITED STATES—Medical malpractice can have devastating results. Whether due to error, lack of oversight, or outright incompetence, it can lead to bleak prognoses, unnecessary additional injuries or illnesses due to improper treatment, and even death. Often, the most challenging part of successfully pursuing a medical malpractice claim is establishing a clear connection between a doctor’s or other medical professional’s failure and the patient’s injuries and losses. In many cases, understanding the difference between a missed diagnosis and misdiagnosis is a key step in these efforts.

What Is a Missed Diagnosis?

A missed diagnosis happens when patients state their symptoms to their doctors, receive the recommended examinations, but don’t undergo any treatment, and are given a clean bill of health. With a missed diagnosis, no illness is diagnosed, and no treatment is generally given.

As a result, an overlooked, existing health issue can progress. Delayed treatment is commonly associated with poor treatment outcomes, the development of secondary infections or other ailments, and feelings of hopelessness and depression.

The Consequences of a Missed Diagnosis: After having done their due diligence and reported their symptoms to medical professionals, many people with missed diagnoses find themselves dealing with an extraordinary amount of mental anguish. With no known way to relieve their pain or to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives, some people even attempt to self-treat.

Based on the type and severity of the illness or injury, a more comprehensive suite of diagnosis approaches could have allowed for the identification of the existing health problem. Sometimes referred to as a failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis, a missed diagnosis can have a significant impact on a person’s long-term prognosis and quality of life.

How a Misdiagnosis Is Different

While a missed diagnosis and misdiagnosis have several similarities, a misdiagnosis is different in that the patient is not given a clean bill of health. Instead, this person is incorrectly diagnosed and may even begin treatment for another, non-existent health issue. Not only does this individual not receive treatment for their actual illness or condition, but they can additionally suffer from unnecessary side effects or adverse reactions of unnecessary treatment. Moreover, both improper treatment and delayed treatment can make their existing health problems worse.

The Consequences of a Misdiagnosis: Both delayed treatment and improper treatment can result in poor patient outcomes. Moreover, when or if the proper diagnosis and treatment are received, treatment outcomes can be significantly less favorable than if the problems would have been correctly identified and addressed from the get-go. Much like missed diagnoses, misdiagnosis instances can leave people feeling depressed, hopeless, and unable to handle their physical and emotional pain properly.

Why a Timely and Accurate Diagnosis Matters

There are four conditions for cases to be classified as medical malpractice. These include:

  • Proving that a professional duty was owed to the treated individual
  • Showing that there was a breach of said professional duty
  • Proving that this breach resulted in injury or additional illness
  • Establishing that loss or damages were incurred as a result of the breach

For patients, timely and accurate diagnosis invariably leads to better treatment outcomes. When illnesses or medical conditions are overlooked, not correctly identified, and improperly treated, people can suffer a decline in their overall physical and mental well-being and noticeable decreases in their overall quality of life.

Establishing that these consequences were preventable is often done by proving lack of oversight on the part of the diagnosing physician, negligence due to a failure to conduct the proper testing, or error by failing to deliver health care services appropriately.