Is It the Cold, the Flu, or Pneumonia?: A Doctor’s Duty to Diagnose

On Behalf of | Jan 14, 2016 | Medical Malpractice

Cold weather is slowly creeping back to Florida, and with it we see the sniffles, coughs, and cranky visits to the doctor or the Emergency Room.

When you’re feeling run down, all you want is to get better and get on with your life. Of course, that requires knowing what’s wrong with you in the first place.

So is it just the common cold, or perhaps a sinus infection? Or something more sinister — like pneumonia or the flu?

That question comes from many a sick lip this time of year, and unfortunately, the doctor’s answer isn’t always right. Countless Floridians suffer from serious wintertime illnesses every year and are misdiagnosed or altogether undiagnosed. Some of them eventually recover without complication, but for others, an error in diagnosis can be devastating.

Why Doctors Confuse the Common Cold with Pneumonia and the Flu

If anyone can tell the difference between a common cold and a bout of influenza, it’s your doctor, right? Well, you might be surprised by how often your diagnosis is based on less than sound science.

The viruses that cause the cold and the flu manifest themselves differently in different people. The textbook signs are fairly similar — nasal symptoms, sore throat, headache, and cough. More serious symptoms like muscle aches, fever, and fatigue are more closely associated with influenza, but they can appear with the common cold too, or with many other viruses and infections.

The flu is primarily distinguished from the cold in terms of severity — the flu generally feels worse and lasts longer. “If you can’t get out of bed,” the saying goes, “you have the flu.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t an altogether very technical guideline. Often, the doctor’s diagnosis boils down to a hurried and subjective evaluation of the patient’s own description of his or her symptoms. More problematic is that a great number of the population are still uninsured, and use an emergency room as a primary care physician. The emergency room doctor’s do not have a longstanding doctor/ patient relationship, and thus lack the familiarity with a particular patient.

It is not uncommon for patients to spend only a few minutes with their doctor before being sent home with a snap diagnosis: “it’s just a cold.”

The Doctor’s Duty to Diagnose Your Wintertime Health Problems

When you visit your doctor, you are entrusting your health and wellbeing to his or her expertise. The law recognizes the importance of that trust and, accordingly, places the burden of responsibility in the expert’s hands, where it belongs.

Under Florida law, doctors have a duty to accurately diagnose your ailment to the very best of his or her ability, applying the very highest standards of the medical profession each and every time.

That means your doctor owes you the time and precaution that it takes to reach an accurate diagnosis. Your healthcare provider should never:

  • Rush you out the door
  • Dismiss any of your complaints or assume you are exaggerating
  • Fail to administer a flu test
  • Assume that a negative flu test is definitive (these tests are frequently inaccurate)
  • Fail to follow up on your condition
  • Give you less than the full time and attention you deserve

Naturally, doctor’s offices and emergency rooms get very busy during this time of year. Sadly, there is a tendency in many medical clinics to simply assume that you — like the majority of patients — have only a simple cold. The office will still collect your co-pay or send you a bill, but they may not give your condition the serious consideration and examination it deserves.

That is unfair, and it can lead to dire consequences. While the cold is generally mild and self-limiting, other conditions like pneumonia and the flu can become extremely serious or even deadly. It is the doctor’s job to catch those conditions before it’s too late.

Questions? Talk to Our Medical Malpractice Attorneys.

Have you or loved you been treated unfairly by your doctor? Sent home with a snap diagnosis only later to discover that you were suffering from something much more serious? Misdiagnosed with the common cold? We can help.

As medical malpractice attorneys, we take a stand against carelessness and haste in the doctor’s office. Florida’s patients deserve better than that, and we’re here to fight for them. Our office has handled many failure to diagnose cases in the past, and we’re ready to fight for yours too. To learn more, please contact the Miami medical malpractice attorneys at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC and set up a free case review right away.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 15 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for 4 years.