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When we see a doctor, nurse or another healthcare professional, we rely on their expertise and understanding to diagnose whether something is wrong and, if so, let us know what steps we can take to remedy the problem.
In the vast majority of cases this happens seamlessly, and patients receive the treatment they require. However, there is always a small possibility that a condition may be misdiagnosed, and as a result the true cause of a patient’s symptoms is not addressed as quickly as it could have been.
This delay, which could be days, weeks, months or even years, can dramatically change the course of someone’s life, affecting their general wellbeing, the treatment options available to them, and their overall life expectancy.
In this article, we will outline how significantly an incorrect or delayed diagnosis can alter someone’s life, and how this delay influences misdiagnosis claims.
What causes a misdiagnosis?
Numerous situations can lead to a patient’s condition being missed, and delaying the treatment that they should receive:
The healthcare professional failing to identify all the signs correctly
The importance of a symptom or sign being missed
Something may be missed during screening, examination or investigation
Symptoms being attributed to another condition, leading to unnecessary treatment
Inaccurate reporting of a result of a test as normal, resulting in no further action
The report of an investigation being misplaced or not followed up on by either the original healthcare professional or someone else, meaning no treatment is arranged
It is important to note that, due to the complexities of the human body, healthcare professionals are not expected to make an accurate diagnosis 100% of the time. However, if the actions taken are considered to be unreasonable then it can be considered negligent.
How a misdiagnosis can impact your future
The consequences of a missed or delayed diagnosis can be truly life-changing for the affected patient. Over time, it is likely that the untreated disease or condition will continue to progress, causing more difficulties for the patient potentially altering the outcome they would have achieved if the correct diagnosis had been made earlier.
Below, we have highlighted three main ways that a misdiagnosis can change the course of your life, with relevant examples associated with each:
The extent of your injury
Your treatment options
The extent of your injury
Firstly, as noted before, the longer that your disease or condition is left to develop, the greater impact it can have on your overall health. As time passes, this means it will cause more discomfort and challenges until the correct diagnosis is made – at which point the suffering you have endured could have had a number of consequences, including:
Progressive movement difficulties
Greater levels of fatigue or ill health
The need to take more sick days, leading to loss of earnings
Restricting your ability to spend time with family or friends
For instance, say that you are suffering from pain in your abdomen, and your doctor fails to diagnose that you are suffering from gallstones. If you are then left waiting several weeks or months until the condition is spotted, you may suffer a bout of acute cholecystitis, causing additional pain as well as fever, nausea and jaundice.
Furthermore, instead of being able to remove the gallbladder via laparoscopy (keyhole surgery), the delay may mean that a more invasive, open surgery is required. As well as presenting a greater risk to a patient, this will also result in longer recovery time and more significant scarring.
Your treatment options
As a disease or condition evolves over time, treatment options may be affected:
Some treatment options may no longer be available; or
More severe treatments may be required
As an example, imagine that a vascular occlusion has caused a patient to lose feeling in their foot as blood flow is not getting there as it should. If this is spotted by a healthcare professional early enough, it may be possible to perform surgery on the vessel to open it up and allow blood flow to resume.
However, if this is delayed, by the time the problem is identified it may be too late to prevent the need for an amputation. This means that, instead of having a slightly damaged foot that requires the patient to use a walking stick for the rest of their life, they may be forced to make the drastic lifestyle changes that accompany a lower limb amputation.
Another example is developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH). DDH is when the "ball and socket" joint of the hip does not properly form in babies. If DDH is diagnosed before the baby is walking, then the problem can be rectified by placing the child in a Pavlik harness or spica cast. After several months in this, the soft, malleable bones of the baby will adjust naturally and correct the issue. No surgery required, and the child will suffer no future issues from the condition.
However, if the baby starts walking before the condition is diagnosed, it is likely they will need surgery to correct the problem. If the baby is walking for over a year without this being identified, they will probably require multiple surgeries. And, in the long term, the child will probably require an early hip replacement in their early 50s.
This shows how significant the consequences of a delayed diagnosis may be for a person’s entire life – if identified early, DDH is an easily correctable problem that will have no future ramifications on a child’s life. If it is not addressed, the child will need surgery and may suffer ongoing effects for life.
Finally, a misdiagnosis that leads to a delay in diagnosis can have a significant influence on your long-term health prospects. The longer that an illness or condition is left untreated, the more likely it will not only require more substantial treatment, but that it impacts your future wellbeing, including:
A shortened life expectancy
Having to take medication for the rest of your life
Recurrences of the same condition
Needing to use a wheelchair, crutches or other mobility aids
Cancer misdiagnosis leading to a delay in treatment can lead to these outcomes. Depending on when the cancer is identified, the treatment may change from a one-off surgery to remove a small tumour, to a more complex and harsh combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy being required.
An example of the impact that an incorrect or delayed diagnosis can have on a person’s misdiagnosis can be found within our own case studies – the misdiagnosis of a ductal carcinoma.
When Miss K was first referred to hospital with an inverted left nipple with a pea-sized lump positioned just below it, doctors reassured her that this was not due to anything sinister following a mammogram and ultrasound. 12 months later she was again tested after the lump had grown in size, but was again told there was no serious issue.
A further 6 months later, Miss K was referred to another hospital for testing where, upon receiving her first biopsy, she was diagnosed with Grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. Sadly, as the cancer had reached Stage 4, her prognosis was terminal.
If a biopsy had been performed when Miss K was first referred, a wide excision and sentinel node biopsy followed by radiotherapy would have removed the then 4mm Grade 2 tumour. There would have been no need for chemotherapy and Miss K would have had a 92% chance of survival at 15 years.
This is just one clear example of how an unidentified issue in a matter of months can drastically alter someone’s chances of recovery and their long-term health.
Making a misdiagnosis claim
From more severe injuries and treatments that cause long-term health problems, to tragically shortened lifespans, failing to catch a problem at the earliest possible opportunity can have consequences that follow an affected person for the remainder of their life.
We hope that this article has clarified just how devastating the implications of a medical misdiagnosis truly can be and, if this occurs, why a person is well within their rights to seek out the compensation, answers and justice they deserve.
At Gadsby Wicks we can help you achieve this goal. As specialists in all forms of medical negligence, including misdiagnosis claims, we will dutifully investigate what happened to you and whether your outcome and quality of life could have been vastly improved if your healthcare professionals should have noted your condition earlier on.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for you or a loved one’s distress, please get in touch.
All content contained within this article is meant for general information only – this should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. If you require legal advice specific to your situation, please contact our team directly.
Gadsby Wicks is not liable for any diagnosis made from the content of this article, nor does it endorse any service or external site linked to within the article.
Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health and wellbeing, or speak to us if you require legal advice.