Sick or Not - Knowing the Difference Is Crucial June 30, 2010.
Diagnosing a disease is tough, but getting it right is essential. Getting it wrong may mean injury or death.
In order to effectively treat a disease, the doctor has to accurately diagnose it in the first place. If that doesn’t happen the consequences may be disastrous. "Consider the fact that if a disease is not properly diagnosed it would mean a person being sick even longer, perhaps getting worse and developing unnecessary complications. In the worst case scenario, the person may die. For instance if cancer is misdiagnosed," observed Christopher Mellino, of the Mellino Law Firm LLC, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Yes, being a doctor is a difficult job and diagnosing a disease means being able to accurately note the symptoms, having accurate and effective lab tests, and two other vitally important things: how much the doctor knows about the condition and how well the patient communicates. "As you may well appreciate, it is quite possible to have a break down at any one of those points in the diagnostic process," Mellino explained.
How common is misdiagnosis? It happens quite frequently and may take several forms that range from only delivering a partial diagnosis to missing an illness entirely. In the case of a partial diagnosis, the doctor would likely nail down the subtype of a disease, but miss the mark on related conditions or complications that may arise with the disease. On the other hand, if the physician entirely missed the boat in identifying the disease, that is a failure on their part; or a misidentification.
In the final analysis, some diseases are far more difficult to diagnose than others, some symptoms are almost too vague to be helpful, and some medical settings actually lead to misdiagnosis. "For example, working with infants is challenging because they don’t communicate well. Behavioral problems, mental and emotional disorders are complex and seem to morph from one thing to another, and digestive diseases are always a challenge to assess accurately," remarked Mellino.
"Interestingly, the one environment where the highest rate of misdiagnosis exists is the ER. This makes sense if you stop to think about it due to the high volume of patients and the pressure to move them in and out quickly," Mellino pointed out.
The bottom line is that a great number of med mal cases happen because the doctor failed to diagnose the patient properly. Most often doctors misdiagnose lung cancer, colon cancer, myocardial infarction and breast cancer. Once this has happened, the whole medical scenario rapidly goes from bad to worse as the proper treatment is delayed. "Patients might want to consider getting more than one opinion if they are ill. This is often a good way to get a decent assessment of a tricky condition," Mellino said.