What is the difference between misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis?

On Behalf of | Jan 26, 2021 | Medical Malpractice |

Patients in West Virginia trust doctors to accurately diagnose and treat their symptoms with the utmost care. Medical malpractice is not usually intentional but commonly caused by negligence, oversight, errors or incompetence. Many patients are not aware that misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis count as medical malpractice, but these two terms differ.


A misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor diagnosis a patient with the wrong condition. A doctor commonly asks a patient questions, runs needed tests and makes a determination of their condition. However, many conditions and illnesses have similar symptoms that are easily misdiagnosed. Some of these conditions include Lyme disease, celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

Mistakes frequently occur in the ER from lack of time for accurate diagnosis or not knowing the patient’s medical history. For example, the ER staff may not have time to check for allergies to anesthesia or diagnose indigestion in a patient with a history of heart problems. Emergency rooms are not held to the same standard as primary physicians, but they still have to provide accurate and ethical treatment, such as not turning down patients without insurance.

Missed diagnosis

A missed diagnosis means that the patient gets no diagnosis or treatment even after naming symptoms, or they get tested but receive no diagnosis. The delay in treatment may cause the problem to worsen, which a thorough exam would have prevented.

Examples include the doctor delaying diagnosis because they think the patient is trying to get unneeded drugs, or the doctor might tell patients that it is in their head. Statistics show that women have higher rates of missed diagnosis for heart disease and stroke, and cancer diagnoses commonly get delayed in general. If a patient continues to seek other doctors, they may lose credibility with the medical community and be considered a “doctor shopper.”

To win a medical malpractice claim, a patient must prove that the care they received fell below what a normal doctor would have provided in the same circumstance. Errors do not always mean malpractice, so a lawyer should be hired to assess negligence in a patient’s case.