Most of us like and trust our doctors, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are minor and don’t have much of an effect on the outcome of our conditions. Other times, they can have very grave effects, such as when a doctor fails to diagnose a condition.
Doctors learn in medical school to determine “differential diagnoses.” This means that your doctor lists the most likely diagnoses of your condition based on your symptoms. In fact, there’s an old medical school adage that goes, “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.”
So it is reasonable that a prudent doctor would look for the most likely cause of your discomfort first. However, if the doctor simply stopped right there and didn’t run the necessary diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out the suspected diagnosis, and your condition worsened, there is a potential for a malpractice action to be filed against the doctor.
For example, if a patient presented to the doctor with a hacking cough, chest pain and was a heavy smoker, a reasonable and prudent doctor would likely want to get a look at a chest X-ray to rule out lung cancer rather than assuming the patient simply had a bad cold.
However, if the doctor was especially hurried that day and had a backlog of patients, he or she may have handed the patient a prescription for cough medicine and a decongestant and sent them on their way.
Meanwhile, if the patient actually had small cell lung carcinoma, by the time a correct diagnosis was made, the cancer could have metastasized to the brain, liver and bones, with potentially fatal results.
Malpractice cases can be complex. They require a skilled litigator with plenty of experience handling that type of case in order to prevail in the California courts.
Source: Findlaw, “Failed/Erroneous Diagnosis and Treatment,” accessed Dec. 09, 2016