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Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

California Medical Malpractice Lawyers for Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis Claims

Unparalleled outcomes for Los Angeles clients injured due to the medical negligence of misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis

Most Americans place an enormous amount of trust in the American healthcare system and particularly in their doctors. Perhaps they should be more wary. In a recent Mayo Clinic study, researchers found that more than 20 percent of the patients who sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic had been initially misdiagnosed, and another 66 percent required some changes to their initial diagnoses.

Misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses can rob you of the opportunity to treat the disease in its earliest stages or can lead to incorrect treatment or absence of necessary/timely treatment. If you are harmed as a result, there is legal recourse, and you may have grounds for a legal action for medical negligence. The California medical malpractice lawyers at Heimberg Barr LLP strive for excellence in representing clients who have been injured because of a preventable medical error. The named partners between themselves have more than 50 years of combined relevant legal experience and they will fight for you throughout the legal process.

What is a diagnostic error?

The National Academies of Medicine defines diagnostic error as, “the failure to (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or (b) communicate that explanation to the patient.”

The National Academies’ study found that diagnostic errors such as misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are caused by several factors including:

  • Inadequate collaboration and communication among clinicians, patients, and their families;
  • Insufficient support for the diagnostic process;
  • Limited feedback about the diagnostic performance; and
  • A culture that discourages transparency and disclosure of diagnostic errors, which impeded the ability to learn from mistakes and improve diagnosis.

Much of the injury that diagnostic errors cause occurs when a disease or condition progresses unchecked because it was undiagnosed and untreated. The physician may have also diagnosed and treated the wrong disease, which can harm (and frustrate) the patient. The patient may also suffer needlessly as the undiagnosed disease continues to worsen. Once the mistake has been corrected, it might be too late to effectively treat the disease at all.

What leads to a delayed diagnosis?

Like all people, doctors make mistakes. Those mistakes can ultimately cost a patient his or her life or physical abilities. A delayed diagnosis is one of those potentially fatal errors, and it happens more often than you might think. Some of the leading causes of delayed diagnosis include:

  • Incorrect interpretations of test results or medical charts
  • Misreading an X-Ray
  • Failure to refer the patient to a specialist
  • Failure to refer a patient for higher level of care
  • Failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests
  • Misplaced paperwork
  • Poorly coordinated care
  • Inadequate communication between clinicians

According to a study published in BMJ Quality & Safety, about 12 million U.S. adults are misdiagnosed each year in the United States. The study’s population-based estimate suggests that diagnostic errors affect at least 1 in 20 U.S. adults each year.

Example of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis

  • Spinal disease. A spinal disease such as an abscess can usually be treated with excellent outcome when properly diagnosed. If not, the condition can lead to devastating complications and injuries including complete paralysis.
  • Heart attack. While heart attacks are not uncommon medical conditions, they are often overlooked and misdiagnosed by primary care physicians, in emergency rooms and even cardiologists. A failure to diagnose an impending heart attack can lead to permanent disabilities and even death.
  • Problems during labor and delivery. Failure to diagnose conditions during pregnancy and delivery such as failure to detect infection, preeclampsia or fetal distress, among others, will often lead to severe and lifelong birth injuries to the infant.
  • Infections. Infections can be mild, such as a common cold, and resolve on their own through the body’s immune system, or through the help of medication. They can also be complex, resistant to treatment, and cause serious harm, including brain damage and birth injuries. A misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis of an infection may result in paralysis, organ damage, other life-threatening conditions or death.
  • Cancer. Cancer is commonly misdiagnosed. Cancer is a disease that is caused by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body. If those abnormal cells proliferate unchecked, the patient could die. If a doctor fails to diagnose a patient’s cancer, or the cancer is misdiagnosed as another disease or condition, the cancer may progress while the patient received treatment for an unrelated condition.

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of infection

Patients come to their doctors or hospitals with serious infections that can turn deadly if not handled correctly. The situations range from epidural abscesses to chorioamnionitis (an infections of the bag of water surrounding a baby in pregnancy) to general sepsis. These can lead respectively to paralysis, severe birth injury/maternal death, shock, multi-organ collapse and death if not timely diagnosed and properly treated.

Physicians and nurses and other medical professionals are trained and required to follow specific, evidence-based practices to help prevent infection. Failure to follow these practices may be considered medical negligence if an infection occurs and then is not properly diagnosed and treated.

Medical News Today defines an infection as a foreign substance that has entered a person’s body and caused harm. The foreign agents, known as a pathogen, then uses the body to sustain itself, reproduce, and colonize. The primary infecting agents are grouped into two main categories: (1) Bacteria and (2) Viruses. An infection can be transmitted in several ways, including:

  • Skin contact
  • Bodily fluids
  • Feces
  • Airborne particles
  • Touching an infected surface

Bacterial infections

Bacteria are microscopic, single-cell organisms that can live almost everywhere on earth, and in every climate. Most bacteria are harmless. In fact, humans need beneficial bacteria in their bodies for a number of reasons.

A bacterial infection occurs when a harmful strain of bacteria infects the body. Depending on the location of the body which has been infected, the symptoms of a bacterial infection will be different.

Examples of bacterial infections include:

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) that causes some food poisoning, most urinary tract infections and many other malfunctions
  • Salmonella that causes typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, among other illnesses
  • Strains of Staphylococcus and Streptococcus that can cause everything from strep throat to serious heart infections

Most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. However, the correct and specific antibiotic must be administered properly and timely. Failure to properly diagnose and treat major bacterial infections can quickly lead to serious permanent injury or death.

Viral infections

Viral infections are caused by a virus which invades the body and attaches itself to a cell, where it releases genetic material and multiplies exponentially. Viruses can and do affect all human organ systems. Viruses can cause infections, and most dangerously, affect:

  • Lungs (Influenza virus)
  • Central nervous system (herpes virus well beyond STD can lead to serious brain and eye infections as well as meningitis))
  • Immune system (human immunodeficiency virus or HIV)
  • Vascular system (Ebola virus)

There are antiviral medications that work to prevent the virus from spreading and to strengthen the body’s immune system. Beware that most antibiotics treat bacteria, however, do not kill viruses; and taking an antibiotic for a viral infection can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance and of developing a bacterial infection. It is thus crucial that an infection is diagnosed not just timely but accurately.

Surgical site infections (SSI)

Per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), a surgical site infection is an infection that occurs within 30 days after surgery with no implant, or within 1 year if an implant is placed and the infection appears to be related to surgery. Surgical site infections can be superficial infections involving the skin only. Other surgical site infections are more serious and can involve tissues under the skin, organs, or implanted material.

Surgical site infections are associated with substantial morbidity and mortality. Patients with SSI are twice as likely to die, 60% more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, and more than five times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital after discharge.

Infectious Disease Advisor reports that the risk for developing an SSI increases for patients who have undergone:

  • abdominal surgery, or
  • operation lasting longer than two hours, or a patient who had
  • Class III or Class IV wound classification (contaminated or dirty/infected wound), or
  • had 3 or more other discharge diagnoses

Hospitals owe a duty of care to their patients to provide a clean, safe environment for treatment. If a patient contracts an infection because of a contaminated medical device or implement, or because the operating room has not been properly sterilized, the hospital may be held liable for a patient’s injuries.

Consequences of an untreated infection

Depending on the nature of the infection, there can be several catastrophic consequences of allowing an infection to go untreated including:

  • Septicemia. Healthline defines septicemia as a serious bloodstream infection. Septicemia occurs when the harmful bacteria and toxins from a bacterial infection in the body enter the bloodstream, which can affect the rest of the body. It can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated.
  • Sepsis. The Mayo Clinic defines sepsis as the body’s extreme response to an infection. Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency which occurs “when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems.” If not treated immediately, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
  • Coma. A coma, per Brainline, “is a profound or deep state of unconsciousness. An individual in a state of coma is alive but unable to move or respond to his or her environment.” There is no guarantee that a person in a coma will ever wake up. Doctors do not know if patients in a coma are conscious of their surroundings.
  • Persistent vegetative state. A persistent vegetative state sometimes follows a coma. Patients lose all cognition, but can react to outside stimuli.
  • Brain damage. Untreated infections can easily travel to the brain, leading to permanent brain damage. This can cost a patient more than time and medical expenses; it could leave him or her unable to walk, talk, feed, or clothe him or herself, or contribute to the household.
  • Paralysis. An untreated infection, especially in or near the spine, can lead to paralysis. Even if the surgical procedure was performed on different part of the body, the resulting infection poses serious risks.

Infections leading to brain damage

Meningitis is an infection which causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain. Meningitis and encephalitis can be caused by infections. Both infections can be transferred from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

Meningitis and encephalitis, in extreme cases, can cause hearing loss, speech loss, blindness, permanent brain and nerve damage, behavioral changes, cognitive disabilities, lack of muscle control, seizures and memory loss. An individual with extreme complications may require long-term, ongoing medical care. (Merck Manual)

When can misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis be considered medical malpractice?

When a patient has been injured because of a preventable medical error such as a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis, he or she may have grounds for legal action against the physician. In a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis occurred and that the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis caused the plaintiff’s injury.

How can a California medical malpractice lawyer help?

If you or someone you care about has suffered catastrophic harm due to medical negligence due to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, an L.A. medical malpractice lawyer from Heimberg Barr LLP will represent you throughout the process of pursuing your claim. With a thorough understanding of both the medical evidence and the legal issues, the Heimberg Barr LLP team has recovered numerous record-breaking settlements and verdicts and countless multi-million dollar recoveries for their clients, including:

  • $10.55 million was the largest medical settlement in the history of California and Los Angeles County reached during trial. Largest settlement at the time for negligent misdiagnosis and improper recommendation of a premature caesarian section delivery of triplets
  • $9 million verdict for a woman born with congenital brain problems that had required a brain shunt. Her shunt became infected and in one of the largest verdicts delivered in Norwalk, jury found that the doctors ignored/not properly diagnosed the infection for over 3 years, resulting in additional brain damage and disability
  • $8.95 million medical malpractice settlement for the failure to diagnose and treat a developing hydrocephalus in a 16 year boy with history of brain tumor
  • $6.6 million medical malpractice settlement for the misdiagnosis of a treatable form of breast cancer

The L.A. malpractice attorneys of Heimberg Barr LLP, named #1 Medical Malpractice firm by The National Law Journal, have worked exclusively on behalf of injury victims for decades. Dr. Steven Heimberg is a physician; Marsha Barr-Fernandez is a seasoned litigator. They possess the critical skills to decipher the complex records and accurately assess the damages done to you and your family, to ensure the most appropriate and just award. More importantly, perhaps, they know how to explain these damages to a jury in language that is clear and easy to understand. When you and your family have suffered life-long, permanent injuries because of medical malpractice, Heimberg Barr LLP can help.

Work with a Los Angeles medical malpractice lawyer for your misdiagnosis claim

Do not hesitate to contact Heimberg Barr LLP immediately if you sustained an injury because of a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. You can call (213) 213-1500 for a free consultation with a Los Angeles diagnostic error injury lawyer, or complete the contact form and find out how the firm selected as Best Medical Malpractice Law Firm in America can help you today. The firm serves clients throughout California.