When I was nine-years-old, I had bacterial meningitis, a very scary diagnosis. I had attended my school carnival earlier in the day and went home not feeling well. My mother attributed my headache, nausea, and fatigue to a day filled with eating too much junk food and too many spins on the tilt-a-whirl. When I woke up the following morning I couldn’t feel my legs, my neck was stiff, and my stomach was covered in red blotches. That’s when the panic set in and I was rushed to the emergency room. After several tests came back inconclusive, my pediatrician made the decision based on a hunch to run one more test, which required a spinal tap, and I was started on antibiotics for bacterial meningitis, just in case. Since my spinal tap results wouldn’t be ready right away and I appeared to be improving, I was sent home that evening. Even though I was feeling much better and we thought the worst was over, my pediatrician called the next morning to let us know there was a medical team waiting for me at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and I needed to get there immediately because her hunch was correct, the spinal tap came back positive, proving a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis.
I have always joked that my week’s stay at St. Louis Children’s Hospital was the best “stay-cation” I’ve ever had. I got endless snacks, movies, and a play room that put FAO Schwartz to shame. But what was even “cooler” to me was the fact that I became somewhat of a local celebrity in my hometown. My face was on the front page of our local newspaper, my grade school closed for an entire day to be quarantined and my diagnosis forever changed the shared-make-up policy at the local theater I was acting in at the time. The nine-year-old me liked that my diagnosis made me the cool kid for a few weeks. But the adult-me knows how extremely lucky I was to have such a fast acting pediatrician. If it wasn’t for her quick thinking and proactive approach to find the diagnosis, my story could have ended very differently.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s story ends up as happy as mine did. The most common type of medical malpractice lawsuits stem from misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. An error when making a diagnosis can lead to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all. In turn, the patient’s condition can be made much worse, or could even lead to death. In 2013, researchers estimated that the number of misdiagnosis related claims that cause preventable permanent damage or death may be as high as 160,000 each year.
It is important to note, however, that not all misdiagnoses are medical malpractice. Doctors are humans and do make mistakes from time to time, but if they acted within the standard of care and behaved as any other reasonably competent doctor would in the same situation, chances are there is not a valid medical malpractice claim.
If you feel that you or a loved one has been misdiagnosed by a physician resulting in an injury or death, contact an attorney who can determine if the doctor acted out of the scope of the standard of care and get you the help you deserve.
By: Tatum Tipton