Many Oregonians may be unfamiliar with the term, “differential diagnosis,” but practically anyone who has gone to a doctor for a new ailment has been subjected to this medical process. The differential diagnosis method allows a doctor to work through a patient’s symptoms to rule out possible causes of their pain or illness in order to work down to the right diagnosis for their suffering. Since many common and uncommon ailments share the same symptoms and characteristics, it can be confusing for doctors to know exactly what problem a patient has without investigation.
The differential diagnosis process can start with a doctor taking a complete medical history from a patient, or reviewing their chart if they are an existing patient. Where there are gaps in the patient’s medical history, the doctor can ask questions and seek more information to broaden their understanding of their patient and their medical needs.
One place, therefore, that medical negligence can derail the differential diagnosis process is through the doctor’s attention, or lack thereof, to the patient’s answers to their questions. A medical professional who glosses over their patient’s concerns and comments may miss valuable information that could help work them toward the right answer to their patient’s mysterious condition.
When a doctor cannot derive all of the information that they need from their patient through questions and review, they may choose to order tests and other diagnostic assessments to further their information on their patient’s condition. Imaging, blood testing, and other evaluations can shed light on the problems a person is suffering from that cannot be witnessed with the eyes. A doctor who elects to skip diagnostic testing that may reveal the cause of a patient’s ailments may be negligent if their choice falls below the standard of care established for individuals in their profession.
Based on the information that a doctor collects through the differential diagnostic process, they may arrive at a diagnosis that strongly relates to the patient’s history, symptoms, and test results. The doctor may order treatment for the patient and if the patient’s condition resolves, the diagnosis may right. However, if a patient returns with unchanged, different, or worsening symptoms, the doctor may need to further their investigation to find an answer.
Medical professionals have a wealth of information at their disposal, and have the ability to consult with other professionals in their fields to discuss unusual or uncertain cases. A doctor who fails to take further steps to help their patient and dismisses their concerns may be negligent in their duty to provide adequate care.
It is important for readers to understand that the differential diagnosis process is just that: it is a process. It may not be possible for a doctor to provide a patient with a complete diagnosis after a single visit, and that doctor may be fully engaged in working for the patient’s care even if the process takes weeks to complete. However, when a doctor stops investigating a patient’s condition or fails to use the differential diagnosis process, they may fail to diagnose a potentially serious condition. The negligence of medical professionals can have fatal results, and individuals who have suffered from neglectful medical care may have legal claims based on their losses. This post offers no legal or medical advice and should only be read as information.