Delayed diagnosis refers to the delayed or late diagnosis of a medical condition. The failure to diagnose your health issues early on can lead to more serious complications or even death, due to a delay in treatment. Now, physicians can’t be expected to remember every symptom of rare diseases, but they should be held accountable for medical malpractice when they fail to diagnose common, often deadly, diseases and conditions such as cancer.
If you have a serious disease or condition, you need to get the correct treatment for it as soon as possible. If you’ve already experienced a delayed diagnosis, contact our attorney in Orlando at Colling Gilbert Wright & Carter to discuss your legal options during a FREE consultation: (407) 712-7300.
Incorrect or delayed diagnosis of an ailment can cause your doctor or other hospital personnel to:
- Fail to order indicated or necessary diagnostic tests.
- Order the wrong tests.
- Misinterpret test results.
- Fail to act on abnormal results.
- Fail to evaluate all your pertinent medical information.
- Choose an incorrect form of therapy for you.
Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is even more problematic when your condition should have been diagnosed long before it became serious.
If your doctor or emergency room personnel failed to identify your treatable health condition when you first had warning signs emerge and the condition became worse, you may have a medical malpractice claim for delayed diagnosis. Our lawyers have handled many medical malpractice claims that have resulted in successful verdicts.
There are several conditions that can cause wrongful death if they’re not caught early and we have helped clients recover damages for cases such as:
- Failure to Diagnose Stroke
- Failure to Diagnose Heart Attack
- Failure to Diagnose Cancer
- Failure to Diagnose Lung Cancer
- Failure to Diagnose Prostate Cancer
- Failure to Diagnose Cancer of the Colon and Rectum
- Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer
Failure to Diagnose Stroke
According to the American Stroke Association (a division of the American Heart Association), someone in the United States suffers a stroke, on average, every 45 seconds. About 500,000 of these people experience a new stroke (as opposed to a recurrent one). That means that your doctor needs to act fast and know how to respond properly.
When you are with the doctor trying to figure out what is wrong with you or your loved one, look for the following symptoms:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
- Trouble speaking or understanding
If any of these symptoms are present, your physician should take steps to assess you further to determine if you possess certain risk factors for stroke.
Risk factors for stroke include:
- Atrial fibrillation (heart rhythm disorder)
- Carotid or other artery disease
- Certain blood disorders
- Diabetes mellitus
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Gender (stroke is more common in men than in women)
- Heredity (family history)
- Race (African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do)
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Increasing age
- Other heart disease
- Physical inactivity and obesity
- Prior stroke or heart attack
- Sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia)
- Some illegal drug usage (intravenous drug abuse or cocaine use)
- Tobacco use
- Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs)
Your doctor should especially pay attention if you have ever suffered TIAs. These are mini-strokes or “warning strokes.” They have similar symptoms to stroke, but result in no permanent damage. That’s why it is very important to recognize and treat TIAs immediately. If you get treatment for these quickly, you can reduce your risk of a major stroke.
Failure to Diagnose Heart Attack
The failure to diagnose a heart attack can be an extremely serious problem because the symptoms of a heart attack are very similar to those of other health conditions which aren’t life threatening. If your doctor fails to realize that you or a loved one is actually suffering cardiac arrest, precious time is lost and the consequences to your health can be much worse.
One reason your heart attack may not have been properly diagnosed is because your symptoms may have been confused with other things. Some of the most frequently made errors in diagnosis include:
- Missing a heart attack diagnosis in younger patients (because doctors don’t expect young people to have heart attacks).
- The fact that heart attacks occur more frequently in men, so your doctor may fail to diagnose it in your case if you are a woman.
- Misreading an electrocardiogram (ECG), which measures your heart activity. (Due to improperly reading ECGs, up to 23% of heart attacks weren’t diagnosed correctly according to one recent study.)
Another reason your doctor may have failed to diagnose your heart attack is that some symptoms of heart attack can be very ambiguous. Your doctor may not have evaluated the following risk factors accurately:
- Your age
- Your previous heart condition(s)
- Your drug interactions, if any (including your hormone replacement therapy and/or your use of oral contraceptives)
- Your medical history
- Your lifestyle such as alcohol use, drug use and amount of physical activity and exercise
- Whether you smoke or not
- Whether you are experiencing menopause
Sometimes it may appear that you have no heart attack symptoms. However, if your doctor sees you with heart attack symptoms, but fails to investigate your possible risk factors or perform tests to rule out a heart attack, these could be signs of medical malpractice.
Symptoms of heart attack include:
- Pressure, fullness or squeezing pain in the center of your chest
- Escalating occurrences of chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Failure to Diagnose Cancer
Cancer is a challenging disease, and it is not always immediately detectable. Consequently, just because a doctor fails to recognize the existence of the early signs of cancer, it is not always malpractice.
Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to provide you with the standard of care another similarly experienced or trained medical professional would have provided. This means that if another doctor would have been able to diagnose your cancer and your doctor failed to do so, your doctor may have committed malpractice and may be liable to you for damages.
Medical professionals may fail to recognize the existence of cancer for several reasons. The most common reasons for allowing cancer to progress to a life-threatening state are:
- Failing to administer appropriate tests
- Poor analysis of test results
Possible damages that may be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit include:
- Medical bills
- Future medical bills
- Lost wages
- Prescription costs
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
Failure to Diagnose Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer. More than a quarter of all cancer deaths in the United States are from lung cancer. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 15.6%, compared to 65.2% for colon cancer, 89.1% for breast cancer and 99.7% for prostate cancer.
One of the main reasons for lung cancer’s low survival rate is delayed diagnosis. If detected late, lung cancer has only a 10% survival rate, but if detected early, survival rates can be as high as 70%.
One factor that makes lung cancer more deadly than other cancers is that there is no single accepted early screening method for lung cancer. However, there are some potential screening tools that can sometimes detect lung cancer at an early stage. If you are part of a high-risk group, such as smokers or persons who worked with asbestos or have had tuberculosis, potential screening tools may be beneficial to try to detect lung cancer early.
The absence of a good screening tool for lung cancer does not mean that no screening is the best option. If your doctor did not discuss the options for lung cancer screening, it may have reduced your chances of survival, especially if you are part of an at-risk population. Similarly, if you had a chest X-ray to diagnose another condition and a suspicious mass was visible but not investigated, your life may have been shortened.
Sometimes, hints of cancer show up in routine blood tests but are not investigated. Finally, if you report symptoms consistent with lung cancer that were dismissed or explained away without giving you options to detect or rule out lung cancer that was diagnosed at a later stage, medical malpractice may be responsible for shortening your life.
Failure to Diagnose Prostate Cancer
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men. Nearly 200,000 men a year will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, but in many cases, early detection increases a man’s likelihood to survive. About 25,000 men a year die from prostate cancer.
There are two tests that are used for early detection of prostate cancer. These are the digital rectal exam (DRE), in which a doctor feels the prostate through the rectum to determine if the prostate is hard, lumpy or enlarged. In addition, a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is used to detect a substance made by the prostate in response to prostate cancer.
These tests should be performed in combination, and, although they result in both false positives and false negatives, together they detect about 90% of all prostate cancers in their early stages. Failure to use both tests may result in delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Once abnormal results are detected with either your DGE or PSA test, your doctor should follow up with a biopsy to appropriately diagnose prostate cancer. A biopsy is the only accepted test for confirming prostate cancer and should be performed after abnormal DGE or PSA results. In addition, other tests may be performed to determine whether the cancer has spread including:
- Blood tests
- Bone scan
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
If your doctor failed to follow up with either a biopsy or tests to determine whether your cancer had spread, it could have affected your chances of successfully fighting the cancer.
If prostate cancer shows symptoms, it has often spread beyond the prostate and may require more aggressive treatment. Here are some symptoms that may indicate prostate cancer:
- Urinary problems including inability to urinate, weak flow, need to urinate often
- Erectile dysfunction
- Blood in urine or semen
- Frequent pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you should see your doctor to be screened for prostate cancer.
Failure to Diagnose Cancer of the Colon and Rectum
Cancers of the colon and rectum claim about 50,000 lives each year. Technically, colon cancer and rectal cancer are distinct, with colon cancer affecting the longest part of the large intestine and rectal cancer affecting the last few inches of the large intestine, but often the two types of cancer are lumped together as colorectal cancer. Many people use the term colon cancer to refer to both types.
Colon cancer has a higher mortality rate than either breast cancer or prostate cancer. This makes it especially crucial that people receive regular colon cancer screenings to detect this cancer early.
Although there are some disagreements, most doctors and the National Cancer Institute agree that a properly performed colonoscopy is the most accurate and complete way to screen for colon cancer. Other tests are available, and many of them may be described as sufficient for your personal risk level, but a colonoscopy performed by a well-trained professional experienced in the procedure is the best tool for detecting cancerous and precancerous polyps in the large intestine.
During a colonoscopy, your screener should remove and/or sample any suspicious growths in your large intestine. These samples should be tested to determine if they are cancerous or benign. Failure to perform follow up testing of all suspicious growths can decrease the effectiveness of a colonoscopy in protecting you from fatal colon cancer.
Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers. Nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 40,000 will die. The difference between life and death in cancer cases is often early detection.
Mammography is the standard diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer, but not all mammographies are the same, and mammography is not always the right test to detect breast cancer. Failure to diagnose breast cancer may result from a poor choice of screening test.
Many women can get good screening results with traditional film mammography, but some women are more likely to have their cancers detected with digital mammography. According to a recent study and the recommendations of the National Cancer Institute, digital screening mammography is better for women who:
- Are under age 50.
- Have dense breast tissue.
- Are still menstruating.
- Have stopped menstruating within the last 12 months.
Women who fit any of these categories should have been informed about the option to have a digital mammogram to improve chances of detecting breast cancer early.
For women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is recommended to detect cancer in the other breast. MRI detects about 90% of cancers missed by mammograms and should be performed on the opposite breast of all women diagnosed with cancer in one breast.
Even the best test for detecting breast cancer can fail if improperly used. If a screener fails to see or identify suspicious tissue, the undetected cancer can grow and spread dramatically, increasing the necessity for aggressive treatments and reducing your chance of survival.
Women with breast implants should be recommended to a screener who is experienced in imaging breasts with implants. Failure to do so can decrease chances that breast cancer will be undetected.
If your mammogram indicated potentially cancerous tissue, your doctor should perform diagnostic tests to identify harmful cancers. These may include biopsies and blood tests among others. If your doctor fails to perform adequate tests to identify cancers, this may lead to delayed diagnosis of breast cancer.
In addition, once breast cancer has been diagnosed, tests should be performed immediately to determine whether the cancer is localized or whether it has spread. These tests may include a bone scan, an MRI and a Computerized tomography (CT) scan. They should be performed before you and your physician decide on a treatment plan.
How Our Lawyers in Orlando Can Help Your Delayed Diagnosis Claim
Our lawyers at Colling Gilbert Wright & Carter have been helping injured clients receive due compensation for their pain and suffering for decades. We have the knowledge and skill set necessary to fight aggressively on your behalf. Our medical experts can review your medical records to determine if your case is viable and exactly where the physician went wrong.
In some of these cases, the patient may not survive due to the late diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. In which case, you may be fighting on behalf of your late loved one. We understand how difficult this time is and will help you through the process of filing a medical malpractice or wrongful death claim.
Delayed diagnosis can have a profound impact on your ability to beat cancer or survive a heart attack or stroke. If a doctor failed to recognize your symptoms and/or order the appropriate tests, call our lawyers in Orlando today at (407) 712-7300 to schedule your FREE, no-obligation consultation. Colling Gilbert Wright & Carter serve clients throughout Florida and nationwide.