A New York Times article entitled “Women Are Calling out ‘Medical Gaslighting’” (March 28, 2022) highlighted an under-reported problem in the healthcare field: the misdiagnosing of women’s medical conditions. According to the article, women are much more likely to be misdiagnosed than men, often because physicians do not take their self-reported symptoms seriously. The term “medical gaslighting” has been applied to this situation, emphasizing the maddening aspects of not being taken seriously when reporting symptoms to doctors.
While this term may aptly suggest the anger and frustration women feel when searching for an accurate diagnosis and treatment, it seems to downplay the much more serious consequences of misdiagnoses and the physician’s role in causing those consequences. The term “gaslighting” implies that physicians do not take a lot of women’s complaints about medical ailments seriously, which, as the article points out, is unfortunately, true in far too many cases. However, in cases where this lack of concern and failure to accurately diagnose a patient causes physical harm, we need to hold the culpable physicians accountable for their negligence and call their “gaslighting” what it really is: medical malpractice.
As a Miami medical malpractice attorney, I have helped many victims of this egregious form of malpractice and want to see negligent doctors held accountable for the pain, suffering and losses they cause. Toward this end, in this blog, I am going to explain when doctors’ not taking symptoms seriously and misdiagnosing medical conditions should be considered medical malpractice and what you should do if you have been the victim of misdiagnosis malpractice.
The Tragic Toll of Misdiagnosis in the U.S.
Research on medical error reduction and prevention indicates that diagnostic errors result in death or injury for 40,000 to 80,000 patients per year in the U.S. Misdiagnoses can happen in any healthcare setting, but they occur most frequently in primary care settings where only one practitioner is responsible for patient care.
Unfortunately, one in every 1000 visits to a primary care physician results in harm due to a diagnostic error. The most common of these errors is failure to order appropriate tests, incorrect interpretation of test results, failure to follow up with patients after tests are administered or failing to refer patients to appropriate specialists for care. These failures occur far too often with serious medical conditions, such as:
- Acute renal failure
- Acute pyelonephritis
- Acute vascular occlusion
- Heart failure
- Malignant tumors
- Metastatic cancer
- Spinal infections
When serious conditions such as these are not diagnosed and treated appropriately, patients’ lives are threatened. Those who survive still suffer physically, emotionally and financially.
When Is a Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice in Florida?
In all healthcare settings, when physicians end the diagnostic process too early, fail to prescribe the appropriate treatment because of a misdiagnosis or prescribe unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment, patients suffer the consequences. As the New York Times article suggests, because physicians dismiss their symptoms as minor or as merely psychological, women are much more frequently the victims of this type of medical negligence.
Regardless of gender, however, when patients’ medical conditions are misdiagnosed, there can be one of two negative results: either the treatment administered causes further harm or failure to deliver appropriate treatment results in further progression of the disease. This is especially important in emergency situations, such as stroke or heart attacks, where a misdiagnosis can be fatal, and in cancer misdiagnosis cases, where months without the appropriate treatment can mean the cancer has progressed beyond the stage where it can be treated effectively.
Failing to correctly diagnose or delaying a diagnosis of any serious medical condition can result in a life-threatening or fatal injury. However, to be considered medical malpractice under Florida law, the misdiagnosis must meet the legal criteria for medical negligence. That is, you must be able to prove “by the greater weight of evidence” that your physician’s care breached “the prevailing professional standard of care” that other “reasonably prudent” healthcare professionals in the same or a similar medical field would have provided given similar circumstances and that because of the physician’s breach of the standard of care, you were injured and suffered damages.
Recovering Damages for a Misdiagnosis
If you can demonstrate that your doctor’s negligence injured you, you may be able to bring legal action against the doctor and recover both economic and non-economic damages. According to section 766.202(3), Florida Statutes, economic damages are “financial losses that would not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the cause of action.” These losses may include past medical expenses related to the negligent misdiagnosis, potential future medical expenses, lost income and diminished earning capacity.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are “nonfinancial losses that would not have occurred but for the injury giving rise to the cause of action” (section 766.202(8), Florida Statutes). These damages include pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of the capacity to enjoy life, and other nonfinancial losses recoverable under Florida law.
What to Do If You Have Been Injured by a Misdiagnosis
If you have been injured due to a misdiagnosis, you have the right to bring legal action against the doctor or other health care providers responsible for the misdiagnosis. A medical malpractice claim can hold doctors accountable for their negligence and help you obtain the compensation you deserve for the damages you suffered because of their negligence.
Medical malpractice cases can be very complex, but an experienced Florida medical malpractice attorney will:
- Thoroughly investigate the facts and details of your case to confirm that your misdiagnosis was indeed medical negligence.
- Work with top-flight expert witnesses to establish that most physicians would have considered the correct diagnosis as a possibility and ordered confirmative diagnostic testing.
- Carefully amass the evidence necessary to show you suffered more physical, emotional and financial harm than you would have had a timely, accurate diagnosis had been made.
- Consider all of economic and non-economic damages you suffered to determine the full, fair compensation you should be able to recover.
- Build a powerful argument to support your claim.
- Provide the compassionate attention, support and guidance you need throughout the legal process.
If you’ve been injured by a misdiagnosis, whether due to gender bias or any other form of inexcusable medical negligence, please know that you have the right to hold the negligent physician accountable and obtain compensation for the damages you have suffered.
Without a doubt, when doctors do not listen to their patients or take their symptoms seriously and then misdiagnose their diseases or medical conditions, they are not merely gaslighting their patients; they are being negligent according to Florida law and should be held accountable for medical malpractice.