Medical misdiagnosis claims advice


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You might not have been aware of this fact, but a total of some 800,000 patients (or 1 in 20) who were admitted to hospitals here in the UK later fell victim to what’s classed as ‘avoidable error’ during their stay.

That’s a worrying statistic published as part of a report prepared for the NHS in October 2014. Clinical findings released a little earlier than that shed light on another interesting fact, this time regarding the 50% more complaints that were received from patients who felt that the National Health Service had not acknowledged the mistakes they had encountered first hand whilst under its duty of care.

Neither of which revelations make for encouraging reading, and both of which serve to underline that verdicts of misdiagnosis are still very much alive and kicking in Britain.

If it’s more facts and figures you’re looking for to support this statement, perhaps the disclosure that up to 1 in 20 prescriptions are, on average, found to be incorrect might do the trick. Or maybe the confirmation that the prescription error rate – for those patients aged 75-plus – stands in the region of 2 in 5. And if that wasn’t alarming enough, how about the recent conclusion that almost 1 in 5 under-14 year old kids have been given an incorrect prescription?

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Any one of these admissions points toward clinical misdiagnosis being a clear and present danger, by anyone’s calculations. Prescription errors are just one part of the problem, and from a broader perspective the consequences of any medical misdiagnosis can be far-reaching. Especially when you consider that if and when an incorrect diagnosis is made, the patient’s underlying health condition (which is, effectively, the cause of the symptoms presenting) remains untreated, which subsequently can result in prolonged pain and suffering; and in some instances the end game might manifest as severe disability or even death itself.

And that’s before you even broach the other subject, whereby additional health problems could arise (including associated psychological injury) as a direct consequence of administering the medication prescribed in error.

What exactly is medical misdiagnosis?

In terms of allegations of medical (or clinical) misdiagnosis, this falls into the three predominant classifications. These are as follows:

  • Total misdiagnosis – Essentially whereby a health condition (or illness) is failed to be diagnosed following reported health problems
  • Late misdiagnosis – This impacts on recovery times and understandably has the potential to extend existing health issues
  • Incorrect diagnosis – Which can result in improper medication (or treatment) being administered from the outset

Are there different forms of misdiagnosis (or indeed, undiagnosed illnesses) I should be aware of?

As we hinted above, there are numerous variations on a misdiagnosis theme, unfortunately, of which just a selection are detailed beneath to afford you a better idea:

  • Cancer misdiagnosis
  • Missed fractures (or undiagnosed fractures)
  • Undiagnosed appendicitis
  • Undiagnosed infections
  • Undiagnosed stroke
  • Undiagnosed meningitis
  • Undiagnosed diabetes
  • Undiagnosed internal bleeding
  • Late (or misdiagnosis) of any other condition

What are acknowledged to be the most commonly misdiagnosed illnesses?

Again, there are a range of illnesses which could fall into this specific category, as there’s realistic potential for any amount of conditions to be wrongly diagnosed due to the similarity of symptoms a lot of the time. Having said that, what follows represents what personal injury claim experts believe are the most recurrent misdiagnosis complaints received by parties seeking financial recompense for resultant ills:

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Coeliac Disease
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Lupus
  • Aortic Dissection
  • Pulmonary Emboli (blood clot in the lungs)
  • Myocardial Infarctions (heart attack)
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Neoplasms (Cancer)
  • Stroke
  • Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction (chronic lower back pain)
  • Lyme Disease
  • Depression

What aspect of misdiagnosis represents the biggest threat to a patient’s health and wellbeing?

It’s difficult to differentiate between key factors and elements, suffice to say that any form of medical error can have dire consequences for the individual on the receiving end of this information/delivery of wrong diagnosis.

Prescription errors – as touched on above – are damaging in as much as they could lead to the handing out of drugs which are incorrect for the patient in question, or possibly of the wrong dosage, whilst the chances of them suffering from allergic reactions (due to ingredients) can’t be ruled out either.

Despite many errors of this particular nature having relatively short-term effects, there’s always the likelihood that some can trigger serious (or even fatal) injury or reaction, be it through an incorrect prescription or the delay in the receipt of the required treatment which has gone unnoticed during this period of confusion.

So whose fault is this?

Essentially the blame can be apportioned to the GP when it comes to cases of prescription error, courtesy of them failing to provide complete and clinically accurate information for the pharmacist/dispenser, or perhaps due to illegible instructions.

When it comes the misdiagnosis in hospital and clinical surrounds, then consultants may well be the guilty party as such and found culpable.

Can you describe a typical misdiagnosis scenario?

Of course. For the most part, many claims for medical negligence compensation start from what’s often referred to as a medical ‘non-event’, as opposed to an adverse and obvious event, like for example a surgical error. And GP’s missing signs of an injury, illness, condition or disease is a primary factor.

Imagine if you will a patient complaining to their GP that they have observed a breast lump, persistent cough or change in bowel habits for instance. In this situation the patient might be reassured, prescribed some medication/course of antibiotics and sent away; only to return to their GP practice at a later date complaining of the same symptoms. Pacified once again, it’s not until months down the line (and on visiting a locum or admitting themselves to an A&E department with another health issue perhaps) that it transpires that they actually have a major health problem, such as breast or bowel cancer possibly. Treatment would be instigated and an urgent surgical referral would ensure. This outline would suggest that the patient’s GP had missed some vital signs/symptoms which could have led to an earlier diagnosis, which in turn would form the basis of/legitimate platform to launch a compensation claim.

Conversely it may not be a GP at fault for misdiagnosis, as highlighted in one particular case which resulted in a personal injury pay-out for a widow whose husband died prematurely due to a hospital failing to diagnose the lung cancer which his general practitioner had referred him to the care of when their suspicions were first aroused. The hospital carried out a few tests, and after many months discharged the deceased without any diagnosis. The family even complained about the GP at the time, citing that this (as then) inaccurate (and not confirmed to a later date) diagnosis was unnecessary and had ruined their Christmas. Yet just 2 years on the condition of the patient deteriorated and he returned to hospital only to be told that he was suffering from lung cancer after all; however it was now inoperable.  So as you can see, there are various scenarios whereby inadvertent misdiagnosis can result.

How can misdiagnosis be avoided?

Simply put, it can’t. With all the will in the world GPs and healthcare professionals in all clinical capacities can sometimes get things wrong and illnesses can be misdiagnosed (or go undiagnosed altogether).

The good news is (relatively-speaking in light of the circumstances) that patients – and family members – who have been affected by this can go on to make a compensation claim. As we’ve mentioned above, misdiagnosis can be a complex and disputed subject, whether it be the case of a persistent cough being mistaken/treated for a chest infection (when it turns out to be the symptom of a more sinister and underlying illness) or when they happen to receive a wrong diagnosis.

A more typical case study focusing on this would, hypothetically-speaking be, in the event of a GP delivering a verdict that indicates a cancerous lung tumour, which ultimately results in them having an operation to remove part of their lung.

However they then, at a later date, discover that the tumour was in fact benign, and therefore the operation was an unnecessary physical and emotional intrusion which could have been avoided. This is also termed as misdiagnosis, as the upshot of it saw the patient lose part of their lung for no reason.

How does the law interpret the area of misdiagnosis?

English law states that earlier treatment needs to have had a better than 50% chance of succeeding. This rule can lead to unsatisfactory results as the probability of success rates remains a disputed subject.

GPs would start treatment for diseases (including cancer), even if there was a lower than 50% chance of the treatment being a success, so the rule could be perceived as unfair. Having said this, many patients do make successful claims due to misdiagnosis though.

How to make a compensation claim for misdiagnosis

To instigate a compensation claim for medical misdiagnosis, the treatment you received (or lack of it for an alternative matter) has to be deemed to have caused an individual claimant further injury, pain or suffering.

As we’ve now established, misdiagnosis can stem from predictable factors like human error, equipment faults, flawed procedures and failures of communication. Irrespective of the cause, its effects vary greatly.

Medical negligence litigation aims to put things right for the individual, but also acts to incentivise clinicians and healthcare institutions to raise their standards, which can only ever be championed.

With reference to claiming for various illnesses and medical issues, protocol and procedure can differ, so it is important to contact the right people in relation to your claim. If you (or a family member) have suffered because of misdiagnosis, the first step you should take is to talk to a specialist personal injury claims adviser.

To learn more about how CL Legal can help you make a claim for compensation, contact us today:

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