The Devil Is in the Diagnosis

Medicine and weather forecasting have a lot in common: untold millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work pour into the study of each field and yet the results sometimes leave us scratching our heads wondering why we don’t seem to be getting any closer to consistently make accurate and early forecasts and timely diagnoses.

Misdiagnosis is still the undisputed 600-pound gorilla for medical-malpractice cases.

It is distressing in this day and age when technology promises a panacea of opportunities to assist physicians in keeping up with the latest information on diagnosis, treatments and cures that so many still rely upon what they learned in medical school, hear from drug detail people and read in the one or two journals provided by the AMA. To a great extent, misdiagnosis today occurs because doctors do not know how to properly use new clinical and administrative technologies now integrated with their practices.

The types of cases we’re increasingly seeing relate to missed advances in the science of medicine, electronic medical records and computerized tickler systems.

Computer-aided diagnostic systems, meanwhile, are making it easier to determine what ails a patient and, because of that, courts are increasingly willing to compel accountability when doctors fail to arrive at a correct diagnosis.

Ironically, despite this willingness on the part of the courts, it is simultaneously becoming more difficult for many plaintiffs’ attorneys to win medical-malpractice cases.

That it’s harder to win is a function of the complexity of modern medicine itself. Many, if not most, plaintiffs’ attorney do not possess sufficient insight concerning the medical matters at issue to be able to mount a potentially successful prosecution. Fortunately, Weitz & Luxenberg has the size, scope and resources that this development poses no real obstacle.

Smaller firms face another difficulty in the form of highly knowledgeable defense attorneys. Clearly, members of the medical-malpractice defense bar know their stuff. In times past, it wasn’t as crucial for plaintiffs’ attorneys to themselves understand the medicine because they could rely on medical experts to explain it. Now, they cannot because the defense knows the medicine too well.

The way to win under these conditions is to know the medicine better. That requires diligently keeping up with the latest medical research.  I devote several hours daily to doing nothing but reading journals just to stay abreast of medical advances and technologies. I’m glad to do it because it allows my firm to maintain its edge in the medical-malpractice field.

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