Written by

Rebecca Kelly - Associate Solicitor

Medical misdiagnosis occurs when a healthcare professional fails to correctly diagnose a patient with a condition. Misdiagnosis forms the basis of the largest percentage of medical negligence compensation claims. When a patient receives a misdiagnoses, it can be devastating and can potentially cause patients to incur more treatments and more harm.  


What is medical misdiagnosis?

A medical misdiagnosis occurs when a healthcare provider, such as a GP, makes an incorrect diagnosis of a patient’s medical condition. There are many reasons why a medical misdiagnosis can occur, for example, there can be errors when interpreting test results or miscommunication between healthcare professionals.

Misdiagnosis can unfortunately lead to delays in treatment, inappropriate treatment, progression of a disease and further health complications for patients. There are different types of medical misdiagnosis that can occur, these are: 

  • Incorrect diagnosis – an incorrect diagnosis happens when a medical professional diagnoses a patient with the wrong illness 
  • Failure to diagnose – failure to diagnose occurs when a medical professional misses a patient’s illness altogether 
  • Delayed diagnosis – a delayed diagnosis is when an unnecessary delay occurs when diagnosing a patient with an illness

Any type of medical misdiagnosis can have devastating impacts for patients, it can lead to a delay in treatment, or even a patient receiving the wrong treatment and potentially causing them more harm and their illness becoming progressively worse as it has not been treated fast enough. 


How common is medical misdiagnosis

The 2021/22 NHS resolution report indicated that there has been an increase in the number of claims that are due to delays, cancellations and misdiagnosis reflecting longer waiting lists. Between 2017 and 2021, there were 8,718 claims made where the primary cause was ‘Failure/ Delay Diagnosis’ or ‘Wrong Diagnosis’. Between the time period of 2017 and 2021, the cost to the NHS for the claims relating to failure/ delay diagnosis or wrong diagnosis was £1,143,164,279


Parkinson’s misdiagnosis 

Parkinson’s is among one of the conditions which is most commonly misdiagnosed and in a study carried out by Parkinson’s UK, it found that 26% of patients reported that they were misdiagnosed with a different condition before receiving the correct Parkinson’s diagnosis. As a result of more than a quarter of patients receiving an incorrect diagnosis, almost half of these patients (48%) were given treatment for their non-existent condition. 36% of the patients received medication that was not needed and 6% underwent operations or procedures. 

Out of the patients that received unnecessary treatment, 34% reported that as a result of the unnecessary treatment, their health got worse. 

Parkinson’s can often be misdiagnosed because the tremors that are associated with Parkinson’s can be misdiagnosed as a stroke or potentially even a head injury. It is important that Parkinson’s is diagnosed quickly and correctly so that patients can receive treatments to help reduce their symptoms. If it is not diagnosed correctly, it is stopping patients from receiving the correct treatment and potentially making their condition worse and decreasing their quality of life. 


Heart Attack misdiagnosis

Heart attacks are also one of the conditions that can be commonly misdiagnosed with research suggesting that almost a third of people in England and Wales are being given the wrong initial diagnoses after having a heart attack. Using the UK national heart attack register, the study found that 29.9% of patients had an initial diagnosis that was different from their final diagnosis. 

Heart attacks can often be explained away as heartburn or indigestion, but it is important that this does not happen because when patients receive a wrong diagnosis and they have suffered from a heart attack, there are severe implications that can occur to the patient, potentially including death.


Stroke misdiagnosis

Strokes can also be commonly misdiagnosed, with research from the British Medical Journal concluding that acute ischaemic stroke is missed in approximately 9% – 14% of patients who are admitted to the Emergency Department. And this is more common for patients who are suffering from nonspecific symptoms such as dizziness and nausea. 

When a patient has suffered from a stroke, early treatment is critical for the patient’s chance of survival and if they receive treatment sooner, then they are more likely to have improved outcomes. It is therefore extremely important for all patients that have suffered a stroke to receive a diagnosis straight away in order for the patient to receive the correct treatment. 


How often are patients misdiagnosed? 

As we have seen, there has been an increase in the number of claims that have been made due to delays, cancellations and misdiagnosis reflecting longer waiting lists. Research has reported that when a diagnostic error occurs in general practice, more than half – 58% of these diagnostic errors, such as misdiagnosis, happen during GP consultations with patients. Some of the reasons for misdiagnosis include

  • The performance and/ or the interpretation of the diagnostic test 
  • Issues surrounding the follow-up and tracking of diagnostic information 
  • Issues surrounding the referral to a specialist 

In 72% of misdiagnosis cases, there were two or more issues that occurred and led to the misdiagnosis of the patient. 


Medical Misdiagnosis Negligence

Medical misdiagnosis can have devastating impacts for patients and their loved ones, the effects can be health related but also patients can suffer emotional distress and financial stress due to misdiagnosis. The statistics above highlight that although misdiagnosis is not extremely frequent, it can have extremely negative outcomes for patients that have been affected.

If you or a loved one have suffered from any type of medical misdiagnosis, get in touch today and one of our medical negligence experts will be able to support you and guide you through your claims process.

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