Diagnostic failures are one of the most common types of medical malpractice in the United States. Sometimes, doctors fail to diagnose a patient accurately. When they fail to determine what causes a patient’s symptoms, they cannot order proper treatment. Other times, they reach the wrong diagnostic conclusion.
Both scenarios can be negative for patients, as they will have to go without the treatment they actually need and may even undergo treatment that is unnecessary or potentially harmful given the true underlying cause of their symptoms. Anyone could end up misdiagnosed or undiagnosed when seeking medical care, but statistics show that two groups are at particularly high risk of diagnostic failures.
According to recent research, women are roughly 30% more likely than men to experience a diagnostic failure. This comes in part from internalized sexism in physicians. Doctors may ignore or downplay the symptoms that female patients report. Diagnostic errors can also result from inadequate medical research. All too often, the male body is the standard for medical research and education. Professionals working in an emergency room, for example, may not know how to identify the different symptoms of stroke and heart attack in women.
Patients of Color
Even mild racism can subtly affect how doctors practice medicine. While they may not consider themselves racist, many physicians believe racist ideas that have no basis in medical science. Those beliefs will impact the standard of care they provide for certain patients. For example, some doctors believe that those with darker skin actually have higher pain tolerance. Especially when a patient goes to an emergency room or Urgent Care facility, physicians may be more likely to assume that self-reported symptoms are part of a drug-seeking effort rather than an honest appraisal of someone’s condition.
Women and those with darker complexions may need to prepare more thoroughly before seeking medical attention. Keeping a written record of symptoms and questions to ask a physician can potentially decrease the likelihood of a diagnostic failure. With that said, filing a medical malpractice claim is a reasonable response when harm caused by a negligent delay in diagnosis or a negligent inaccurate diagnosis becomes a patient’s reality.