There are several ways that physicians and other medical professionals can make diagnostic mistakes.
Not surprisingly, the incidence of misdiagnosis is much higher in emergency settings. Increased time pressure translates into less time to investigate differential diagnoses. And the severe nature of many emergency room illnesses and injuries means that a missed or incorrect diagnosis is more likely to result in harm to the patient.
In an emergency room, less common illnesses and conditions are more likely to escape correct diagnosis. Conditions that are uncommon in certain patient populations are also less likely to be correctly diagnosed. For example, a young woman experiencing gastric distress (one symptom of a heart attack) is less likely to be diagnosed with a heart attack than an overweight, middle-aged man with the same symptoms.
Examples of conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed in an emergency room include heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and meningitis. Appendicitis is misdiagnosed in 28% to 57% of children under the age of 12 and in close to 100% of infants. (To learn more about medical malpractice occurring in emergency settings, see Nolo's article Medical Malpractice During Emergencies.)
Medical malpractice cases are highly regulated by complex rules that vary considerably from state to state, so it's often essential to get advice or representation from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
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