In order to succeed in a delay in diagnosis case, the injured person must also prove that earlier treatment would have resulted in a better outcome. For example, in a case involving terminal cancer, the Plaintiff must be able to establish that earlier detection of the cancer and appropriate treatment would have likely resulted in his or her survival.
There are many different types of medical errors that can lead to a delay in the diagnosis of a condition.
Failure to Test
A physician may fail to order imaging, biopsies, blood tests, or other investigative or diagnostic tests if the patient’s complaints or symptoms are not taken seriously, a proper family or individual history is not taken, or risk factors are not recognized and investigated, causing a delay in diagnosis.
Misinterpretation of Results
Radiologists and pathologists are also involved and responsible for patient care, although they typically will not even meet the patient. Proper and early diagnosis depends on the correct examination and interpretation of ultrasounds, mammograms, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, biopsy samples, and pathology slides. Failures in the interpretation of imaging and pathology samples may cause a delay in the diagnosis and the availability of treatment options for patients.
Failure to Communicate
A delay in diagnosis or treatment can occur if a doctor fails to respond to or communicate test results to the patient or fails to follow up to obtain test results that have been ordered. Communication errors can also be caused by other health care professionals, who may fail to properly label or handle specimens obtained for examination, or fail to transmit the results of testing.
Failure to Refer
A physician may fail to recognize the complexity of a diagnostic situation, or appreciate the significance of certain symptoms and findings, that warrant referral of the patient to a specialist for proper evaluation, assessment, and management of the patient’s care. A failure to refer to a specialist can result in a delay in diagnosis and treatment.
Detection & Pre-Cancer Screening Tests
The practice of medicine now employs precancerous and early stage cancer screenings to detect and diagnose cancer in those patients most at risk for the disease. These screening tools have become standards accepted within the medical community as tests and procedures that reduce the incidence of missed detection and assist in earlier cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Common screening tests for breast cancer include genetic testing, mammograms, ultrasounds, and manual breast examination. For colon cancer, common screening tests include fecal occult blood tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopies. A discussion on which, if any, of these colon cancer screening tests you prefer is required between you and your doctor after the age of 50 in Alberta. Common screening includes Pap smear tests for cervical cancer and chest x-rays for lung cancer. A failure to perform these and other tests, or failure to perform them in a timely manner, may constitute medical negligence or malpractice. Some of these tests also require a skilled radiologist to interpret the test, and this can also be subject to error.
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