How Dangerous Is a Delayed Medical Diagnosis?

By Greg Kohn

When you get sick, you need to get a prompt, correct diagnosis so that you can start appropriate treatment while the medical intervention can still work. A delay in diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death. A New Jersey personal injury attorney can help you go after compensation from the at-fault party if you were the victim of a diagnostic error.

Do you wonder how dangerous a delayed medical diagnosis is?  Think of a disease like a forest fire. Let’s say that someone notices an abandoned campfire in the woods and promptly douses the flame with a bucket of water. The danger is over, and no more harm occurs. If the fire gets time to spread, however, it can quickly become a raging wildfire that consumes thousands of acres.

If you have a medical condition and you go to the doctor early for an evaluation of your symptoms, the disease might be treatable with a positive outcome. Without prompt medical intervention, however, a condition like cancer could spread to other organs of the body and progress from a precancerous growth to a Stage Four terminal malignancy.

How Common Are Diagnostic Errors?

Even the medical community acknowledges that “delayed diagnosis and other diagnostic errors are more common, costly and harmful than any other patient safety threat,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some sources say that 80,000 Americans a year die from diagnostic errors. 

What Causes Diagnostic Delays and Misdiagnosis?

One of the top reasons for a delay in diagnosis is inadequate communication between primary care doctors and specialists. When a doctor does not share abnormal results with a patient or a specialist to whom the primary care doctor refers the patient, the poor communication can contribute to diagnostic errors and delays.

Other common causes of delays in diagnosis include:

  • Incorrect test results. If the laboratory runs the test improperly, uses malfunctioning equipment or expired chemicals, misreads the testing results, or mixes up patients or readings, the results can be inaccurate.
  • Inadequate Staffing. When a hospital does not have enough staff to collect patient material and process it in a timely manner, doctors might not have the data they need to make a prompt diagnosis. When biological material lies around too long waiting for analysis, chemical levels can deteriorate or change, leading to wrong test results.
  • Failure to Transmit Information. A primary care doctor might not transmit all of the medical information the specialist needs to make the correct diagnosis. As the patient continues to have problems, the two doctors eventually share more information, and the specialist can reach the needed diagnosis.
  • Lack of Due Diligence. The primary care doctor might not recognize the severity of the patient’s condition. For example, the doctor might suggest that a patient take antacids for stomach pain and indigestion. If the patient actually has stomach cancer, the diagnosis could get delayed by six months or a year, until the patient goes to the emergency room and gets the proper diagnosis. At that point, the cancer might not be treatable or could require more drastic procedures than if it had been found right away.

If you or a loved one got harmed because of a delayed diagnosis, you might be entitled to financial compensation for your losses. A New Jersey personal injury attorney can evaluate your situation and protect your legal rights, contact us today.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.