Legal and Medical Effects of Delayed Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis.

What is a diagnosis?

In medical parlance, a diagnosis involves identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms and the analysis or investigation of its cause or nature. It refers to the identification of the nature and cause of an illness.

Though misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are closely related, there is a distinction between the two terms. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are examples of medical malpractice.
Misdiagnosis involves a wrong diagnosis given by a doctor, which leads to wrong treatment and subsequently leads to decreased rate of recovery or injury the patient in a case that is non-life threatening.

Errors in diagnosis usually have negative psychological effects on patients as they tend to undergo a course of wrong treatment.
Misdiagnosis could be any of the following:

  • Misinterpretation of test results by the doctor and making a conclusion of a healthy condition when the patient is not healthy
  • Diagnosis of a wrong health condition which leads to wrong medical treatment
  • The patient getting diagnosed with a more serious condition than what he or she has in reality leading to unnecessary medical care.

Delayed diagnosis on the other hand involves giving the right diagnosis after a significant delay in time. In other words, it is the late yet accurate diagnosis of a patient’s health condition. Delayed diagnosis can lead to the death of the patient as adequate standard treatment is not administered as a result of delayed diagnosis of the illness. Although it should also be stressed that a severe or serious misdiagnosis, if not re-diagnosed on time, could also potentially lead to fatality.

A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis by itself is not an evidence of the negligence of the doctor, though doctors are obligated to give correct assessment of patients’ health conditions, as best as they can. Misdiagnosis can occur as a result of the following:

  • Use of faulty diagnostic equipment
  • Inadequate expertise of the doctor
  • Wrong interpretations of test results by the technician
  • Failure to recognize the symptoms of a rare disease.
  • Wrong surgery
  • Wrong administrations of drugs and overdose
  • And more.

Though competent doctors are liable to make diagnostic errors even when using standard medical care, the determining factor is whether the doctor acted competently or not. This involves an evaluation of the steps the doctor took in arriving at the diagnosis, and also involves checking the differential diagnosis method the doctor used.

What is a Differential Diagnosis?

A differential diagnosis is a systemic method used by doctors for the identification of a disease or condition in a patient. As a result of a basic evaluation of the patient, the doctor makes a list of diagnoses in order of probability. The doctor therefore ascertains his diagnosis by making further medical observations of the patient, asking detailed questions about symptoms and medical history, ordering tests, or referring the patient to specialists. A number of diagnoses will be listed by the doctor but only one tends to be chosen as a result of the doctor’s observations or evaluation.

Therefore, this article is to examine the legal and medical effects of misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis.

The Medical Effects of Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

  • Unpleasant side effects due to consumption of wrong medicines
  • Unnecessary drug intake may complicate the health condition further
  • Allergies can be developed
  • The nervous system can be affected as a result of the intake of wrong treatment
  • Delay in correct diagnosis may cause worsening of the present condition
  • Can result in the development of high or low blood pressure
  • Increased stress
  • Intake of wrong medications can have negative psychological effects on the patients
  • Wasted money spent on wrong treatment
  • Possibly development of secondary condition or illness as a result of the misdiagnosis
  • Possibility of wrong or unnecessary surgery as a result of wrong diagnosis
  • Death, in worst cases

Legal Implications of Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

In the occurrence of medical misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis, the primary party involved is the doctor. The laboratory technician is partially involved should a test be requested by the doctor. Such a laboratory technician would be involved in the misdiagnosis as a result of giving a wrong analysis or interpretation of the test results which he or she conducted.

In the event that the patient who has been affected by the misdiagnosis wants to file a medical malpractice suit, it is very likely that the doctor would be the primary defendant in the case, though it is not unlikely that the hospital may also be co-defendant.

In a very serious case of negligence, he or she may be charged by the disciplinary body for medical practitioners for misconduct and license may be withdrawn.

Factors Required for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit.

Doctors are usually not held legally responsible for all diagnostic errors. Therefore, patients must be able to prove the following in order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit based on a wrong diagnosis:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed.
  • The doctor’s negligence caused actual injury to the patient
  • The doctor did not include the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list
  • The doctor included the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list, but failed to perform appropriate tests or seek opinions from specialists in order to investigate the viability of the diagnosis

In filing for a lawsuit, the patient should ensure there that he or she gathers enough evidence to prove that the doctor was negligent, something which can sometimes be difficult to do. All in all, it is often best to opt to hire a medical malpractice lawyer to help file such a medical malpractice lawsuit, as such an attorney is much more likely to be experienced in doing so.

Claims and Remedies for Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

Claiming for misdiagnosis negligence compensation is one of the most legitimate ways of recovering from any damages you may have been subjected to as a result of the misdiagnosis. The remedies could be in form of any of the following:

  • Monetary compensations as damages.
  • Free medical treatment for cases that are reversible


Though the law does not hold doctors legally responsible for all diagnostic errors, doctors are obligated to give the correct diagnosis of patients’ health conditions. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis by doctors have adversely affected the lives of many patients or led to death in worst case scenarios. Though damages are given, it is not enough to compensate for the negative effects the lives of the patients’ and their families.

Therefore, it is important for you or your family that has suffered as a result of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis to speak to a personal injury attorney to evaluate your case and help determine if there is grounds for a suit.