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Medical Malpractice and the Differential Diagnosis

Posted on May 11, 2011

One of the most common types of malpractice we see is physicians who miss a critical diagnosis.  Sometimes, this leads to delays in treatment which causes unnecessary pain and suffering and diminishes the chances for full recovery.  Other times, a missed or delayed diagnosis can result in permanent disability or even wrongful death.

In medical school and their residencies, doctors are trained in the “differential diagnosis.”  This is a routine diagnostic method whereby a physician formulates a hypothesis as to likely causes of the patient’s symptoms.  The doctor then uses his or her medical judgment to eliminate unlikely causes by a deductive process of elimination.

The essential component of the differential diagnosis is the use of reasonable medical judgment.  If a doctor eliminates a possibility simply because a condition is rare, that is not enough.  The judgment must be reasonable, and it must be based on the information available.  This doesn’t mean that doctors have to order every possible test to eliminate every possible disease–that’s not reasonable (and don’t worry–“defensive medicine” is myth).  But where a simple blood test or an inexpensive x-ray can eliminate a potentially fatal condition, it is reasonable to use those tests to reach a diagnosis.  Doctors and physicians are highly trained, and their patients trust them with their lives.

When doctors fail to exercise reasonable judgment and miss a diagnosis, that is medical negligence.  The law protects your rights to recover if you are a victim of malpractice, but you need experienced lawyers who understand the medicine and know the law.  Contact the Utah medical malpractice attorneys at G. Eric Nielson & Associates for a free, no obligation consultation today.

Ryan Springer

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