When a doctor delivers a misdiagnosis of cancer, the resulting damage can be incredibly harmful. Such misdiagnoses can result in mistakenly clearing a patient of cancer, or failing to accurately diagnose cancer, allowing it to worsen. A false positive could lead a patient to undergo unnecessary intensive medical treatment like chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Patients who suffer harm from misdiagnoses of cancer may have grounds for medical malpractice claims. Learn more by speaking with a qualified medical malpractice attorney in West Virginia.
What Is the Standard of Care?
The standard of care is the term used to denote the appropriate level of treatment a patient should receive for a specific medical condition. The medical community reaches consensuses regarding acceptable methods of care through extensive research, testing, and the results of experimental procedures. These methods adapt over time, but physicians must adhere to the standard of care for every patient and only deviate when they have reasonable justification to do so.
When it comes to diagnoses, attending physicians must use a differential diagnosis process to accurately determine a patient’s condition. Using differential diagnosis, a doctor will observe the patient’s vital signs and symptoms to create a short list of possible diagnoses. Many medical conditions share symptoms with others. For example, someone with the flu may mistakenly believe it is just a common cold due to the two conditions sharing similar symptoms.
After creating a list of possible diagnoses, the physician must use a process of elimination to deduce the actual cause of the patient’s symptoms and administer appropriate treatment. Physicians can test for cancer using many methods. A physician has a professional duty of care to investigate any signs of cancer in a patient and accurately rule it out as a possible diagnosis.
Filing a Lawsuit for Misdiagnosis
Medical malpractice claims are essentially personal injury claims filed against medical professionals. When these individuals fail to prevent patient harm or harm their patients through negligence, they are liable for the resulting damages. However, the plaintiff only has grounds for a lawsuit if the defendant’s error or negligence directly harmed the plaintiff or caused some type of tangible loss.
In a cancer misdiagnosis case, the harm done is not always clear. For example, if a doctor mistakenly gave a false negative to a patient and then followed up on the test a week later, noticed the error, and communicated the mistake to the patient, it is unlikely the extra week had a noticeable impact on the patient’s condition. However, it is possible for a misdiagnosis to cause serious problems in a very short amount of time, and the damage from a misdiagnosis of cancer can entail serious harm to the patient, such as allowing a cancerous tumor to escalate to an inoperable stage.
Proving Negligence in a Misdiagnosis Case
When a healthcare professional makes a diagnostic error that causes a patient harm, fault for the resulting damages may not automatically fall to the diagnosing physician. Doctors rely on lab technicians, specialists, and support staff members to assist with the diagnostic process.
Improperly calibrated laboratory testing equipment, negligent input from a specialist, or other human errors could lead to a misdiagnosis. The first step in a misdiagnosis case is determining the party responsible for the misdiagnosis and liable for the resulting damages.
The next step is proving the defendant failed to deliver an accurate diagnosis due to negligence.
For example, the plaintiff’s attorney could call on an expert witness with a professional background in oncology to testify as to whether the defendant used a sound diagnostic method. Expert witness testimony can help prove another similarly skilled professional in the same situation would have acted differently and prevented the diagnostic error.