Delayed Diagnosis: When Honest Mistakes Become Legal Matters

As a patient, you trust your doctor to provide timely, accurate help for your medical issues. However, since you're not a medical professional, you often have to rely on the opinion and expertise of your doctor to know when you need help. That means if your doctor either takes too long to diagnose an issue or misses it entirely, they could be guilty of medical malpractice. Even in today's high tech medical environment, delayed diagnosis impacts a large number of people every year.

​Unlike situations where your doctor prescribed the wrong medication or took incorrect action, it can be difficult to establish that the doctor was at fault when dealing with delayed diagnosis. A few specific elements are required in order to prove that your delayed diagnosis was, in fact, a type of medical malpractice.

Doctor-Patient Relationship

The first component of delayed diagnosis malpractice cases is the establishment of the doctor-patient relationship. In simple terms, this means that you'll need to show that you've utilized the services of this doctor in the past. This sounds simplistic, at first, but is actually quite important to delayed diagnosis cases. 

For example, a patient might solicit the services of a specialist when they suspect that cancer is present in their body. If the doctor refuses to serve this patient, they are not liable for delayed diagnosis malpractice action. Their inaction, even if it contributed to problems for the patient, wasn't malpractice because the doctor-patient relationship had not been established.

On the other hand, if that specialist had reviewed the file of this patient and acted as a consultant before failing to serve them, the doctor-patient relationship would be present--leading to possible malpractice claims. Basically, if you've received services from the doctor before, your claim could possibly be validated in court. If you haven't received services, your options are severely limited.


Once the doctor-patient relationship is established, the next step in determining malpractice is to identify negligence on the part of the doctor. A number of issues make this problematic. One of the most confusing for the average person is differential diagnosis

Since many medical issues present themselves with similar symptoms, doctors are required to weigh the most likely reasons for a particular symptom set. For example, a runny nose could be caused by allergies, a common cold, a sinus infection, or any number of issues. Best practice demands that doctors treat the most likely cause first, before moving on to less likely culprits. These aren't errors in the classical sense--and they aren't evidence of negligence.

Your legal professional can help you determine if negligence was a factor. You'll need the help of experts to determine if the actions of your physician were in line with the expectations of the field. 

Patient Harm

A final element in delayed diagnosis malpractice cases is the notion of patient harm. When you're the victim of a serious medical condition, harm is almost guaranteed. The important part is to prove that the negligence of your doctor increased the amount of harm you've endured.

To establish this, you'll need to compare the typical treatment course with the experience you've had as a patient. Does the typical victim endure similar physical and mental trauma as you did? If you'd been diagnosed sooner in the process, would the outcome have been any different? Again, many of these questions aren't going to have simple answers that you can come to on your own. The best solution is to solicit the advice of a trained medical malpractice lawyers

The most important thing to remember concerning delayed diagnosis is that it exists as a malpractice claim. Doctors aren't only guilty of malpractice when they take incorrect action. Often, inaction is the biggest mistake they can make.