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Better Communication May Help Prevent Misdiagnosis Errors

Our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys examine how better communication may help prevent misdiagnosis errors.

Mistakes do happen, but some mistakes are more serious than others. A mistake by the Internal Revenue Service, for example, can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Medical mistakes can put the life of the patient in jeopardy. There are many types of medical errors that medical professionals can commit, but one of the most prevalent is misdiagnosis.

According to a 2014 study in the BMJ Quality & Safety Journal, about 12 million adults who seek outpatient care in the United States are misdiagnosed. That equals about 1 out of every 20 adult patients, according to a report in CBS News. A lack of good communication contributes to a significant number of misdiagnosis errors.

What is a Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis occurs when a medical professional either fails to identify the proper medical condition or ailment from which a patient is suffering, or fails to identify that the patient is suffering from a medical condition. Failing to diagnose a condition and incorrectly diagnosing a patient are examples of possible errors by a health care provider that may give rise to a potential medical malpractice claim:

  • When there is a complete failure to diagnose, the patient is harmed by not receiving the lifesaving or life-extending treatments they need. The patient’s life can be abruptly and needlessly cut short.
  • When doctors or other medical professionals diagnose the patient with the wrong ailment, the patient not only fails to receive the treatment he or she needs but also may receive treatment that causes additional harm to the patient. An incorrect diagnosis robs a patient with a manageable disease of critical time to treat the disease before it advances.
  • A delayed diagnosis can also be harmful, as lifesaving treatments often work best when they are promptly initiated. One instance of this is when someone is diagnosed with cancer at a later stage as opposed to an earlier stage when the disease is less aggressive.

Medical professionals who do not communicate effectively with one another or who do not communicate effectively with their patients are at risk of misdiagnosing their patients, thereby causing serious harm to their patients.

How Can I Protect Myself Against a Misdiagnosis or a Delayed Diagnosis?

Medical professionals should communicate with one another to reduce the chances of a misdiagnosis. A nurse who fails to inform the doctor about the patient’s complaints when she visited with the patient causes the doctor to be deprived of vital information that can help him make a more informed diagnosis. Medical professionals who are afraid to question or challenge the assumptions of other professionals contribute to the prevalence of misdiagnoses.

Patients themselves can play a role in reducing the chances of being harmed by a misdiagnosis by following these three tips:

  • Speak up: Talk to your doctor – really talk with your doctor. The more details you provide about your ailments, your medical history (i.e., when did the pain begin, have you had this pain before), the better your doctor can assist you. If a medication or treatment does not appear to be working, be confident and communicate this to your doctor so that other alternatives can be explored. You should speak up if you feel uneasy about the recommendations of your doctor, if you feel confused about what is being suggested, or if there are things about the doctor’s behavior or that of his or her staff that cause you to feel uncomfortable. If you have any problems with communicating because of language barriers, be sure to bring a friend or family member who can translate medical terms effectively, find a doctor who is fluent in your language or talk to your doctor about the possibility of having a translator come to your appointment.
  • Ask questions: Do not be embarrassed to ask your doctor questions: It is your health. Asking questions helps you take more ownership over your health and makes you a more informed patient. If your doctor is not explaining a recommended procedure or treatment clearly, ask him or her to clarify what the procedure entails. Ask about potential side effects to medications that your doctor is suggesting.
  • Be honest and forthright: If you have a condition or ailment that causes embarrassing symptoms, you may feel uncomfortable being honest with your doctor. However, there are laws in place that protect the confidentiality of your health-related information. The more information your doctor and his or her staff have about your medical history and current symptoms, the more accurate your doctor’s diagnosis and treatment will likely be (see above).

Where to Turn if You are the Victim of a Misdiagnosis or a Delayed Diagnosis

If you suspect that a misdiagnosis error has harmed you or your loved one, the Colleran Firm is here to help. Our Philadelphia-based law firm provides experienced and caring legal counsel to medical malpractice victims in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We are successful trial lawyers. We understand the importance of family, because four of our five attorneys are members of the same family. We know that a personal injury lawsuit affects not just you but your loved ones as well. Contact us through our website or by telephone if you have been misdiagnosed and would like a free consultation with an attorney about your legal rights.



The attorneys at The Colleran Firm handle serious injury cases caused by health care provider negligence and medical malpractice in Pennsylvania & New Jersey.

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The Colleran Firm

2005 Market Street # 1940
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: (215) 972-8000
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