Does a Delayed Diagnosis Amount to Medical Malpractice?

A delayed diagnosis – also known as a misdiagnosis – can lead to a successful medical malpractice claim in Canada.

When does a delayed diagnosis amount to medical negligence?

A delayed diagnosis amounts to medical malpractice if:

  • The medical practitioner would reasonably have been expected to make a correct diagnosis; and
  • The mistake caused a patient to suffer harm that would otherwise have been avoided

Let’s look at each point in turn.

Should a correct diagnosis have been made?

Medical practitioners have protocols for diagnosing injuries and illnesses. Symptoms should be considered, tests carried out and results analysed. Patients should be directed to specialists where appropriate, with monitoring and follow-ups carried out. Together, these steps should quickly lead medical practitioners to a correct diagnosis.

Unfortunately, however, this doesn’t always happen. When a diagnosis is delayed, the question that must be asked is: would another reasonably competent medical practitioner have made the same mistake? A doctor might be forgiven for failing to diagnose an obscure infection that is rarely seen in Canada. But a doctor might not be excused for failing to diagnose a fracture, particularly where a patient presents with pain, swelling and a history of recent trauma.

It is hard to know where you stand without getting legal advice. If you think that your injury or illness should have been diagnosed sooner, then we urge you to speak to our lawyers. Medical practitioners may have:

  • Wrongly diagnosed you with a different condition
  • Failed to act on your symptoms
  • Failed to carry out an examination
  • Failed to send you for tests
  • Failed to correctly interpret the test results
  • Failed to refer you to a specialist
  • Failed to follow appropriate follow-up procedures

Injuries and illnesses that should be quickly diagnosed – but which are often missed – include:

  • Cancer
  • Fractures
  • Appendicitis
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis
  • Diabetes-related conditions

Did the patient suffer wrongful harm?

To make a medical malpractice claim, the care provided by a medical practitioner (or practitioners) must have fallen below an acceptable standard. Also, this must have caused a patient to suffer harm that would otherwise have been avoided. It is not enough simply for there to have been a poor standard of care – this must have caused some kind of injury, too.

Take the delayed diagnosis of cancer, for example. A patient may repeatedly seek medical help for their symptoms, only for the cancer to remain undiagnosed for a whole year. During this time, the cancer may grow and spread, making it harder to treat. In this instance, the patient has suffered harm because of the delay. But if the tumour is very slow-growing, then experts may conclude that the delay caused the patient no ill effects. If so, then the patient has not incurred an injury because of the medical mistakes.

Can I make a claim for a delayed diagnosis?

Therefore, if medical practitioners failed to diagnose your injury or illness in a timely fashion, ask yourself:

  • Did medical practitioners have the opportunity to diagnose my injury or illness, but fail to do so?
  • Did this delay in diagnosis cause me some kind of harm, be it the need for more extensive treatment, a poor prognosis or prolonged pain and suffering?

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then you could have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Date of discovery

We recommend that you contact our Vancouver medical malpractice lawyers as soon as possible to discuss your options. We say as soon as possible because like all types of personal injury claim, medical malpractice claims are subject to a two-year time limit. This starts from the ‘date of discovery’. This is the date you should reasonably have expected that medical malpractice occurred. This is probably the date you eventually received a correct diagnosis.

To get expert legal advice, either fill in the free online enquiry form or call us on 604 684 0040.

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