a patient suffers due to a failure to diagnose | Coplan and Crane

Can You Sue a Doctor for Failure To Diagnose?

July 29, 2022

The Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Coplan + Crane have helped clients throughout Illinois pursue justice after the negligent mistake of a medical professional. Failure to diagnose is a serious medical error that can have life-altering or life-threatening consequences. If a doctor fails to timely diagnose a patient’s condition, not only can the patient’s condition get worse, but it can also get to a point where treatment will no longer be effective. 

From cancers and heart conditions to broken bones, all types of medical conditions can get worse without professional care, and this makes it crucial that patients receive a timely and accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, many patients do not. 

Failure to diagnose is an extremely common medical mistake. Far too many patients and families are left struggling to cope with the effects of a missed diagnosis. If your doctor (or if your loved one’s doctor) failed to make a diagnosis, can you sue? Here’s what you need to know: 

Statistics on Medical Malpractice Claims Based on Failure to Diagnose

Many patients and families sue their doctors for medical malpractice based on failure to diagnose. According to an article in Claims Journal, a recent study found that “inaccurate or delayed diagnoses were cited in 34% of medical malpractice claims where the patient died or was seriously disabled.” Claims involving diagnostic errors also accounted for 28% of all payouts during the study period. 

The article also reported on a separate study that focused specifically on diagnosis-related medical malpractice claims involving hospital emergency departments. This study found that diagnostic errors were “the most common root cause of emergency department claims,” accounting for 33% of claims filed and 47% of payouts. 

When Does Failure to Diagnose Constitute Medical Malpractice? 

To justify a lawsuit, a failure to diagnose must rise to the level of medical malpractice. In some cases, doctors don’t have the time or information they need to accurately diagnose a patient’s condition, and doctors generally can’t be held liable when they make mistakes due to factors beyond their control.

But, as the statistics above show, many failures to diagnose do give rise to malpractice claims. Under Illinois law, patients and families can sue doctors for failure to diagnose if they can prove:

  • The existence of a duty of care (i.e., a doctor-patient relationship);
  • The doctor breached his or her duty of care by failing to diagnose the patient’s condition;
  • The failure to diagnose caused physical harm (or death) to the patient; and, 
  • The patient (or the patient’s family) suffered financial and non-financial losses as a result of the failure to diagnose.

Proving medical negligence can be extremely complicated. If you or someone you love suffered at the hands of a medical professional, it is in your best interest to speak with a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. The knowledgable attorneys at Coplan + Crane have a proven history of success in even the most complex claims. We will discuss your case for free in a complimentary case review and explain your rights and legal options. 

Steps Healthcare Providers Can (and Should) Take to Avoid Failure to Diagnose

Sadly, the vast majority of diagnostic failures in hospitals and other medical settings are preventable. When a failure is preventable, the patient (or the patient’s family) can sue for medical malpractice. As outlined in the Claims Journal article, some of the steps that emergency departments, hospitals, and other healthcare providers can (and should) take to avoid failure to diagnose include:

  • Take a Patient History – Doctors should always take a patient history to ensure that they have the information they need to provide an accurate diagnosis. 
  • Conduct a Thorough Physical Examination – Conducting a thorough physical examination is critical to providing a timely diagnosis as well. According to Claims Journal, 33% of diagnosis-related claims against emergency room department doctors involve either failure to take a patient history or failure to conduct an adequate patient examination. 
  • Ensure a Sound Diagnostic Decision-Making Process – A flawed diagnostic decision-making process was a factor in 52% of claims against emergency room doctors according to Claims Journal. 
  • Use a Checklist – One of the simplest and most effective ways doctors can avoid diagnostic errors is by using a checklist. Yet, most doctors do not do so. 
  • Evaluate Patients Throughout the Episode of Care – In addition to errors during patient intake, many failures to diagnose result from inadequate evaluations of patients who are receiving inpatient care. 
  • Prevent Triage Failures and Delays in Diagnosis – Doctors and hospitals need to ensure that they conduct appropriate triage in order to avoid delays in diagnosis that ultimately lead to complete diagnostic failures. 
  • Ensure Adequate Communication During Patient Hand-Offs – When handing off a patient to another physician, doctors must adequately communicate the patient’s history, physical examination results, test results, and all other pertinent information needed to assess the patient’s condition.

If failure to take any of these steps (or any other medical failure) results in a diagnostic error, the patient (or the patient’s family) should consult with a lawyer about pursuing a medical malpractice claim. If you need to speak with a lawyer about suing a doctor for failure to diagnose, we encourage you to contact us promptly for a free consultation. 

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyer

For more information about suing a doctor for failure to diagnose in Illinois, contact us to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at Coplan + Crane.

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