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When seeing a medical practitioner for treatment, you hope that they will provide you with an accurate diagnosis so that you can get the care and treatment you need. 

However, in some cases, doctors or medical practitioners may misdiagnose patients, which can result in serious illness or advancement in a disease which might otherwise have been treatable. Indeed, statistics from a University of Queensland research paper show that one in seven medical diagnoses are incorrect, with “21,000 cases of misdiagnosis made in a clinical setting involving serious harm, and up to 4,000 resulting in death.”

While misdiagnosis can be distressing for the person wrongly diagnosed and their loved ones, it is critical for a claim of medical misdiagnosis that negligence is proven for any claim for compensation to be successful. What this means is that it must be shown that the treating physician or medical practitioner failed in their duty to provide the standard care expected of a reasonable practitioner in the same position. 

It must also be shown that the misdiagnosis caused more harm than if the misdiagnosis had not been made. In some cases, treatment (or lack of treatment) does not materially change the outcome which might otherwise have taken place, in which case compensation will likely not be claimable.

Nonetheless, if you or a loved one has been misdiagnosed, and you have suffered injury or loss as a result, you may be eligible to make a claim for compensation. Get in touch with our Brisbane personal injury lawyers for legal advice and find out whether you may be eligible to claim. Our Brisbane no win no fee lawyers are experts in medical negligence matters and can assist clients across Queensland.

Find out if you may be eligible for medical misdiagnosis compensation 

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Commonly misdiagnosed conditions

While it is possible for any type of condition to be misdiagnosed, some conditions may be more easily misdiagnosed than others due to the similarity in symptoms and presenting complications. Some conditions may also carry more serious consequences if misdiagnosed which may give rise to a claim for compensation.

  • Leukemia misdiagnosis - leukemia is a form of cancer in the body’s blood forming tissue. It is common in children and adults, depending on the type of leukemia. In some cases, leukemia can present as a different disease or illness.
  • Pancreatitis misdiagnosis - pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas which may be misdiagnosed as cholecystitis or intestinal blockage, impacted gallstones, gastric perforation, a duodenal ulcer or other similar conditions. Misdiagnosis may result in unnecessary surgery or a delay in treatment.
  • Lung cancer misdiagnosis - Lung cancer may be misdiagnosed as gastric reflux disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or even asthma.
  • Melanoma misdiagnosis - this skin cancer is a serious condition, and the consequences of a misdiagnosis can be very serious.
  • X-ray misdiagnosis or fracture misdiagnosis - a broken bone can be incredibly painful, but if misdiagnosed and left untreated this can have serious consequences, such as future pain through arthritis, or other associated pain conditions. Fractures can also be misdiagnosed, which can lead to future complications as well.
  • Stroke misdiagnosis - a stroke happens when a patient has suffered an interruption to the blood flow to the brain. A person who has suffered a stroke may present with dizziness, vomiting, confusion, or other symptoms, which may result in misdiagnosis. If a stroke is misdiagnosed, the consequences can be incredibly serious. 
  • Heart attack misdiagnosis - heart attacks occur when there is a blockage of the blood flow to the heart. This may be misdiagnosed as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other conditions.

How common is misdiagnosis?

A recent study by Professor Ian Scott found that there are 140,000 cases of medical misdiagnosis in Australia each year. The reasons for misdiagnosis vary, but in some cases it may be the misinterpretation of test results, or a failure to diagnose an illness. 

When a doctor fails to give you a diagnosis, or provides you with the wrong diagnosis for your illness or injury, it is normal to feel upset and worried about whether delayed treatment means you will suffer greater illness or injury than you otherwise might have.

Example: Cindy, a 35 year old woman, has gone to the doctor for shortness of breath and some very slight pain in her chest. While the doctor suspects it may be a heart attack, Cindy is young and has limited lifestyle factors that could contribute to a heart attack. Her doctor does not think it is a heart attack, and does not think she needs an ECG, so she treats Cindy for asthma and sends her away. 

Two hours later, Cindy struggles to breathe and goes to emergency where she is treated for her shortness of breath and it is found that she is having a heart attack. Cindy suffers serious damage to her heart tissue as a result of the delay due to misdiagnosis and is left unable to continue in her role as a field scientist for a mining company. Cindy would be able to make a claim for compensation as a result of the negligence of her treating physician in not performing further tests.

If you believe that your doctor or treating practitioner has failed to accurately diagnose you and you have suffered greater injury and/or loss as a result, speak to us for legal advice about whether you may be able to make a medical misdiagnosis claim.

Why does misdiagnosis occur?

Medical misdiagnosis has been shown to occur in less than 5% of cases, with more common causes for misdiagnosis being linked to cognitive factors like biases. What this means is that practitioners may misdiagnose where they are overconfident in an incorrect diagnosis, or where there is a failure to consider a different possible diagnosis. 

Doctors may also misdiagnose where there are the distractions of emotions, fatigue, peer opinions and cultural norms. Practitioners may feel pressured to reach a diagnosis in order to commence a treatment plan, and to show their competence.

Some medical conditions are also difficult to diagnose, but in that case you should expect that a medical professional, in line with their required standard of care, will pursue other potential diagnoses to avoid giving an incorrect diagnosis. Again, when proving a medical negligence claim, you will need to demonstrate that a practitioner has failed to provide a reasonable standard of care.

How are compensation claims calculated?

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When calculating a claim for medical misdiagnosis, compensation is awarded based on how much impact the misdiagnosis has had on your life. You may have had to stop work for treatment as a result of an advanced illness, or you may have had your life expectancy severely reduced. A medical misdiagnosis claim will often include:

  • Past and future medical and treatment expenses
  • Pain and suffering, including loss of enjoyment in life
  • Lost income and lost superannuation
  • Care provided by family and/or friends
  • Necessary modifications to your home
  • Hospice care and end of life treatment

How much compensation for misdiagnosis of cancer?

When making a claim for compensation for misdiagnosis of cancer, the amount of compensation may be higher if you have suffered serious illness or if your cancer has progressed and become more serious based upon the delay in treatment. If this is the case, you will likely receive more in the way of a compensation payment. 

In some cases, cancers will spread no matter what treatment is received, and in these cases compensation may not be possible due to the nature of the disease. Speak to our legal practitioners to find out how much compensation for misdiagnosis of cancer you may be able to claim. 

How to lodge a complaint for misdiagnosis

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When making a complaint for a misdiagnosis, you have a number of options available to you. You may be able to make a complaint directly to your treating practitioner, or you may make a complaint to a government regulator. Some of the ways in which you can lodge a complaint include:

When you make a complaint to Queensland Health or to the Ombudsman, you will be requested to provide more information to support your claim. If you do pursue a claim for compensation, you will often need to gather substantial evidence to prove that the practitioner has misdiagnosed you.

This requires expert evidence from other medical providers who can substantiate your claim and provide their expert opinion on what they would have done in the same situation. It can be complicated to gather this information, which is why it is helpful to engage the services of a law firm to assist you in lodging a complaint and going through the process of seeking compensation.

Time limits for claiming for medical misdiagnosis cases

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When making a claim for personal injury medical misdiagnosis compensation there are strict time limits that apply in which to commence a claim. Generally, you have three years from the date the negligence occurred - that is, the misdiagnosis - in which to start your compensation claim. Where there is a single negligent act then it is easier to be more certain about when the three-year time limit begins as it begins on the date the misdiagnosis occurred.

When the diagnosis occurs on multiple occasions, over a period of time or the misdiagnosis occurs over many years then identifying when the three year time limit begins becomes more challenging. If you are unsure when your time limit might lapse, ensure you seek legal advice from our personal injury lawyers as soon as possible to find out where you stand.

In some cases, you may be able to commence a claim after this three year period has elapsed, but this is rare. It is important to seek legal advice to see whether you are still within time to make a claim for compensation.

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