Failure To Diagnose Is A Form Of Medical Malpractice

Failure to diagnose may not seem like a big deal. But you’d be surprised…

This analysis of 3 large observational studies revealed that doctors failed to diagnose or misdiagnosed over 5% of patients in outpatient settings. That adds up to approximately 12 million US adults per year.

Not only that, but their research suggests that this error rate could be well over 5%:

“All of these limitations thus suggest that we underestimated the frequency of diagnostic errors and frequency could be well over 5%.”

Imagine enjoying an afternoon hangout with your family in a foreign country when you suddenly just…collapse. That nagging headache you’ve been having for the past few days has now made you unresponsive. It’s not like you had been neglectful, either. In fact, you’ve seen two doctors within the past week. And they were nothing but dismissive. It’s only a tension headache.

Now imagine learning the reason for your collapse was not a tension headache at all. It was a ruptured brain aneurysm they failed to diagnose. 

This is the story of Joy Malanyaon. She’s a nurse herself, actually. And this story was a severe case of failure to diagnose. Malanyaon is just one of thousands of patients who are victims of medical malpractice due to their physician’s failure to diagnose.

And here’s a little perspective for you to understand just how many people have fallen victim to medical diagnostic failures. When reviewing 25 years of US malpractice claim history, a study at Johns Hopkins University revealed the following. Diagnostic errors to hold the largest fraction of claims. Not surgical errors. Not prescription errors. Diagnostic errors. We’ll let that sink in.

Has your primary care physician or other medical professional failed to diagnose you? Did it lead to further complications? If so, you might have a case for medical negligence. Contact Hampton & King today to learn how you can file a claim and receive compensation for your suffering.

Doctor writing on a clipboard to diagnose a patient.

What Is A Failure To Diagnose Lawsuit?

Failure to diagnose is exactly what it sounds like, and the lawsuit that follows is to recoup the patient’s expenses and losses through compensation. And to serve justice. Let’s say a medical professional fails to recognize that your symptoms indicate a specific illness or condition.

He or she has failed to diagnose you. If the doctor fails to diagnose you, for whatever reason, he or she has failed to diagnose you. This can cause unnecessary suffering, and in extreme cases, even death.

Here are some ways a physician might act negligently in a failure to diagnose case:

  • Not properly discussing and examining the patient’s symptoms
  • Failing to refer the patient to a specialist when necessary
  • Not screening for particular conditions that may be associated with patient’s symptoms
  • Misinterpreting lab results
  • Failing to order the proper diagnostic tests
  • Failing to arrange follow-up appointments in a timely manner
  • Missing potential causes of reported symptoms. (And not investigating them further.) Like a diabetes misdiagnosis, for example.

When providing care, a physician must obtain all relevant patient history. That includes symptoms, complaints, and other physical findings. This should help them understand what’s wrong. These things must be done before properly and accurately when diagnosing a patient.

Medical Negligence Or Honest Error?

We know what a lot of you are thinking. How do I know if my doctor’s failure to diagnose was due to negligence?

It’s important to note not every failure-to-diagnose case is due to medical malpractice. Even the most skilled and trained providers are prone to err. But when the failure to diagnose results in improper care, or even no care at all, and the patient sustains injury, it may be more than just honest error. This is where malpractice comes in.

What Leads To A Physician’s Failure To Diagnose

Is it simply because the doctor doesn’t care enough? Maybe the physician didn’t get enough sleep.

It’s hard to tell exactly what led to a provider’s failure to diagnose. However, misunderstandings and misinterpretations are the biggest culprits. First, let’s cover the conditions doctors commonly fail to diagnose.

Conditions Doctors Often Fail to Diagnose

  • Heart attacks
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Infections
  • Pulmonary embolisms
  • Strokes
  • Blood clots
  • Aneurysms

Many medical malpractice cases stem from a failure to diagnose one of the conditions above.

There are also certain cognitive biases that surface in medicine which can impede a physician’s ability to diagnose.

Confirmation Bias

This bias can lead to physicians seeing what they want to see. This is when a physician selectively gathers evidence for what they think might be going on while neglecting any other evidence.

Anchoring Bias

This is very similar to confirmation bias. The difference? Anchoring bias prioritizes initial information and gives it too much weight even if it might be incorrect. Let’s say a patient with a history of diabetes comes in complaining about vision problems.

A physician might use anchoring bias and blame any eye issues on the patient’s diabetes because diabetics can suffer from eye problems. In reality, the correct diagnosis is something entirely unrelated to diabetes, and the doctor ultimately gave the patient a the wrong diagnosis.

How To Navigate A Failure To Diagnose Case

A physician’s failure to diagnose can lead to severe and permanent injuries, disabilities, and even death. If you believe you or a loved one were a victim of a failed diagnosis, you may have legal recourse. But first, you must prove the failed diagnosis was due to neglect.

If the doctor followed all proper protocol, you might not have a case. That is, if they administered screenings, ordered accurate testing. Acted as any highly-trained and skilled medical professional would. That’s not medical malpractice at all, of course.

But what if you know the doctor was negligent in diagnosing you? Pursuing a medical malpractice case may be your path to compensation and justice.

Okay so you’ve determined your failure-to-diagnose case is due to neglect. Now what?


Gather all documents and evidence pertaining to your case. You need to clearly prove negligence and failure to diagnose were the reasons behind your injuries. Here are the documents you should start gathering:

  • Your medical records
  • All forms of communication between you and the provider who rendered care
  • Medical bills or receipts
  • Any prescriptions

Contact a Lawyer

Navigating a medical malpractice case is difficult. Proving the doctor was neglectful and failed to diagnose you can be a lot of work for an experienced lawyer, let alone the patient themselves. You’ll want to seek the help of a professional attorney who has experience handling failure-to-diagnose cases.

Don’t Delay

Most medical malpractice cases have a strict statute of limitation. You have 2 years to file your claim. Failing to file within the allotted time can keep you from receiving the compensation you deserve.

Providing medical malpractice.

Prove Negligence

If you’ve gathered all your evidence, great! On to the next step.

Your claim must establish or show the following:

  1. Duty. The medical provider had the duty to provide you with proper patient care. That includes correctly diagnosing you.
  2. Breach of duty. All medical professionals have a standard of care they must follow with every single patient. If they failed to perform up to that standard, there was a breach of duty.
  3. Cause. The actions (or lack thereof) of the medical provider directly caused you harm.
  4. Damages. You suffered damages because of the provider’s neglect. This can include lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more.

If your doctor or hospital failed to meet the proper standard of care, breached their duty to you and harmed you as a result, you can hold them accountable. Just establish the four legal elements above.

How? Well, it all starts with your free medical malpractice consultation. In this first step, your attorney will help you determine whether or not you have a case, and then walk you through the next steps. And if you choose a good lawyer, they’ll walk you through the process every step of the way.

My Doctor Won’t Help Me FAQ’s – Quick Answers Section

What is failure to diagnose?

Failure to diagnose is, well, when a doctor fails to diagnose. Here’s an example. Let’s say a patient has cancer symptoms that a competent doctor would catch. But the doctor negligently misses, overlooks, or ignores them, and fails to give the patient a diagnosis. Then, the patient is harmed by the growing cancer that the symptoms pointed to. If the patient had been treated earlier, they may have been able to prevent this. This is failure to diagnose.

Is failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis medical malpractice?

Yes, if a doctor fails to detect your existing condition and fails to properly diagnose you… and you’re harmed as a result… That can be considered medical malpractice. Failure to diagnose is a form of medical malpractice, not to be confused with misdiagnosis (more details below).

Why do doctors fail to diagnose medical conditions?

Doctors fail to diagnose medical conditions when they’re negligent. They overlook symptoms or signs pointing to a patient’s medical condition. That can become a medical malpractice case. Here’s an example. Let’s say a patient goes to the ER and tells the doctor she’s been having chest pains. Probably a good idea to be thorough, right? Might be a real problem.

But the doctor assumes it’s just heartburn like so many past patients. And instead of asking more questions and doing due diligence, the doctor brushes it off. Fails to properly diagnose the patient. Later that day, the patient dies of a heart attack. Failure to diagnose. Medical malpractice. That’s how it can happen. And sadly, things like this happen all the time.

Can you sue a doctor for failure to diagnose?

Let’s say your doctor was negligent, and either failed to diagnose, or misdiagnosed your condition. And this results in you being harmed or injured. In a situation like this, you may very well have a medical malpractice case on your hands. Speak with your attorney as soon as possible to see what your options are.

How can I seek compensation on behalf of a family member who died due to failed diagnosis?

If failure to diagnose leads to death, you might want to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased patient. Speaking to an experienced lawyer can help you determine exactly what kind of file to claim.

What is the difference between a misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose?

Many people often categorize the two together, but they’re different. A misdiagnosis is when a doctor diagnoses you with something, but you have a completely different condition. Failure to diagnose is when a provider does not diagnose you at all.

How much compensation can I expect?

It is difficult to estimate the amount of money you might receive as compensation is very case-specific. Your attorney can help you determine an estimated value.

Having a doctor tell you you’re completely fine when in actuality aren’t is not okay. We understand the toll a failed diagnosis can take on your wellbeing. We encourage you to contact our team of professional lawyers today. The consultation is on us! Together we can help determine the best course of action for your case.