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Failure to diagnose claims in medical malpractice litigation

In our last post, we mentioned a recent report which found that failure to diagnose is among the most common claims physicians in family practice face. Failure to diagnose generally refers to cases where a physician delays or fails to diagnose a disease or condition, and which results in injury or progression of the disease beyond what would have come after a timely diagnosis.

While failure to diagnose is a common claim, it isn’t the case that every instance in which a physician makes a mistake in this area will give rise to a viable claim. The question of liability is going to depend on what diagnosis or diagnoses a reasonably cautious physician would have made under similar circumstances.

In some failure to diagnose cases, the issue is that the physician failed to order a test that would have ruled out a diagnosis or led to further testing which would help identify the patient’s condition. In other cases, testing may have been inconclusive, but the patient’s condition did not warrant additional testing. In some cases, testing options are limited and a physician has to simply make the most informed judgment about the patient’s condition as possible.

Many failure to diagnose cases involve questions about the reasonableness of a physician’s decisions regarding diagnostic testing. In the medical world, there are various opinions surrounding diagnostic testing guidelines, and how exactly the guidelines should be applied to individual circumstances. These issues can become complicated and are not for lay people to resolve, which is why expert testimony is needed to establish the proper standard of care.

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