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Patient Misdiagnosis

How Serious is Patient Misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis can lead to various consequences, some even life-threatening. If a patient is, for instance, misdiagnosed as someone with asthma, but they are actually suffering from an allergy or perhaps pneumonia, the patient can die if they do not receive the immediate medical treatment required.

A patient with tick fever can, for instance, be misdiagnosed with a kidney infection. However, with a kidney infection, which is a secondary symptom of the condition, treatment for the kidney infection does not address the serious underlying condition. It is only when the patient suffers long-term effects because of the misdiagnosis that it can be malpractice. It is possible, though, that such long-term harm may only become apparent later on and thus go unnoticed for a few years.

When is Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice?

Misdiagnosis is not malpractice if the patient does not suffer physical harm. A doctor can thus make a mistake in diagnosing the patient, but if the patient suffers physical injury and damages, the patient has the right to lodge a complaint at the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and can take legal steps against the medical professional to be compensated for the damages suffered.

One must first answer the following questions if you are to determine whether the misdiagnosis is malpractice:

  • Did the patient disclose their medical history?
  • Did the patient inform the medical professional of medications they were using at the time of diagnosis?
  • Did the healthcare professional follow the correct procedures when they were diagnosing the patient?
  • Did the healthcare professional adhere to a standard of reasonable care?
  • Did the patient suffer substantial injury and damages as a direct result of the misdiagnosis?

Only if the plaintiff can prove that the misdiagnosis caused worsening of their condition, will they be able to claim damages for pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, past and future loss of earnings, and loss of life amenities, as relevant. However, proving that misdiagnosis caused the patient’s injuries and/or worsening of such can be a daunting task. To this end, an experienced medical law attorney can help to determine the merits of the case and advise the patient on the probability of a successful claim outcome. Where the patient wishes to proceed with legal steps, the attorney must explain in detail the costs of the process, as well as the steps involved.

Where an out-of-court settlement cannot be reached, the attorney, upon the instruction of their client, litigates the matter. It can be a lengthy process, but where substantial damages have been suffered, it may be required to ensure proper care for the patient and financial support throughout their life if the patient is disabled because of the misdiagnosis and subsequent treatment for the wrong condition.

If you suspect that you or a loved one have suffered significant injury and damages as the direct result of misdiagnosis, we advise you to contact our team at Adele van der Walt Incorporated for legal guidance and litigation assistance.


Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Call on our attorneys for legal advice, rather than relying on the information herein to make any decisions. The information is relevant to the date of publishing – May 2019.

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