When Should You Consult An Attorney About A Delayed Diagnosis?

Each of the following scenarios represents an instance of what medical malpractice lawyers call “delayed diagnosis ” – in which the correct diagnosis is made, but not in a timely fashion. While waiting a correct diagnosis, the patient receives a diagnosis that is incorrect, or treatment that is not beneficial; in fact, he or she might receive treatment that causes harm and aggravates the original condition.

Undiagnosed Breast Cancer

A radiologist notices a suspicious spot on Mary’s mammogram. But the clinic has no follow-up procedure and she is never told. Mary assumes she has nothing to worry about. Six months later, Mary detects a lump in her breast. The cancer has grown and Mary is facing a mastectomy and possibly much worse.

They Think It’s Just Stress

Sam reports feeling tired and losing appetite, but the doctor dismisses his symptoms as “stress.” It turns out Sam had a form of cancer that spread while the doctor was treating “stress.”

I Wasn’t Told To Come Back

Joseph gets a clean bill of health following his colonoscopy. However, the lab report was lost. The medical staff never follows up to advise Joseph to come in again for a more detailed examination. Joseph’s colon cancer goes undetected and spreads, requiring a major life-changing operation.


Each of these cases represents an instance of what medical malpractice lawyers call “delayed diagnosis.” The correct diagnosis is made, but not within an acceptable time. While waiting for a correct diagnosis, the patient receives treatment that is not beneficial; in fact, he or she might receive treatment that causes harm and aggravates the original condition.

These patients may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit, even though the medical staff eventually arrived at a correct diagnosis. Almost any delay in diagnosing a serious condition can cause harm.

Closely related to delayed diagnosis are cases in which the doctor knows the diagnosis but delays treatment. Perhaps Sam’s doctor ordered additional tests, but the lab lost the order. The doctor’s treatment will be delayed because she didn’t have adequate information in time to take action.

Alternatively, suppose Joseph’s doctor discovers an infection associated with the colonoscopy. It’s a busy week and the office has no follow-up system in place. Joseph’s doctor forgets to issue a prescription for antibiotics, so the infection spreads, ultimately requiring hospitalization.

How Diagnosis & Treatment Delays Lead To Malpractice Lawsuits

Was someone seriously harmed?

A treatment delay could be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit when the patient experiences significant harm that can be attributed solely to the delay.

In some cases, the delay in treatment makes minimal difference. The medical staff quickly identify the problem and begin treatment before the patient experiences harm. In such cases, a medical malpractice claim most likely won’t be established.

However, delays often lead to long-lasting or even life-threatening consequences. For example, a patient sustains a neck injury from a fall. Delays in treatment can result in damage to the spinal cord, so the patient loses the ability to stand or walk on his own. Delays in intubating a patient can result in loss of oxygen, leading to brain damage or even death.

Was the doctor negligent?

Additionally, your lawyer will want to ascertain whether the doctor has failed to follow standard procedures. Your lawyer will compare the doctor’s actions to a standard of care that has been established for similar conditions. What would a prudent competent, skilled physician have done under these circumstances? You may be asked to get a second opinion from another physician, who will then serve as an expert witness in court.

In our examples, the patients followed up quickly when they noticed symptoms. Their actions will turn out to be important in establishing grounds for medical malpractice. Sometimes patients delay going to a doctor until their condition has worsened. Once they show up, they may forget to mention a symptom. In these situations, your doctor may be able to claim that you, rather than a medical professional, caused the delay.

Next Steps

In summary, you may still have a malpractice claim even if the doctor or hospital gave you proper diagnosis and treatment “eventually.” Delay can cause harm that can justify a claim for monetary compensation.

Only an experienced medical malpractice lawyer can estimate the likelihood of a settlement. The issues can be complicated, with an outcome depending on a very small detail. If you’ve experienced a delay in either diagnosis or treatment for medical care in Pennsylvania, fill out the form below to request a free case evaluation.