Medical doctors make mistakes just like anyone else, but the mistakes they make often have devastating consequences for other people. One of the most concerning types of error which may affect millions of patients annually involves a diagnostic failure. Despite years of training and experience, doctors may reach the wrong conclusion about what actually causes someone’s symptoms.
All too often, doctors in busy private practices or emergency rooms attempting to figure out the cause of someone’s symptoms will jump to the fastest and easiest solution automatically instead of following appropriate diagnostic protocol. These doctors do their patients a disservice, as they should always consider any realistic cause of those symptoms before diagnosing that individual.
The risk of cancer should constantly influence what diagnostic steps a doctor takes. After all, cancer symptoms are often quite mild and general, and those who catch their cancer early generally have a better chance of achieving remission.
Diagnostic mistakes when someone has cancer can prove fatal
Doctors may send someone home with no treatment or simple antibiotics when they need a referral to a specialist for more testing. The unfortunate truth about diagnostic errors involving cancer is that often they don’t come to light until the patient dies.
A medical examination or autopsy after their death could potentially result in an accurate diagnosis and help everyone understand what caused their symptoms and their death. Other times, a patient misdiagnosed previously or turned away untreated and undiagnosed might seek out a second opinion and eventually obtain an accurate diagnosis, only to discover that their cancer has spread.
Delays of just a few months in the diagnostic process can be the difference between someone undergoing localized surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. Delays in diagnosis can also drastically reduce someone’s chances of survival. Given that lung cancer and the common cold produce many of the same symptoms, doctors should actively seek to rule out other causes or affirm a diagnosis before deciding how to treat a patient.
Those who discovered too late that their doctor overlooked cancer or that a loved one died of undiagnosed cancer may want to look into a medical malpractice claim. Holding doctors and their employers accountable for diagnostic errors may lead to an improved standard of care for other patients in the future.