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What is the meaning of differential diagnosis?

Medicine is just as much of an art as it is a science. What this means in practice is that, ultimately, a doctor or other medical professional are really making their best educated guess about what is ailing their patients when giving a diagnosis.

Because there is some guesswork inherently involved in the practice of medicine, a doctor is not liable for medical malpractice simply because he diagnosed a patient with one condition but it turned out that the patient actually had something else.

However, a doctor is expected to follow the proper process for diagnosing medical conditions. Called differential diagnosis, this process requires the doctor treating the patient to come up with a list of conditions which each could explain the patient's symptoms, ranking them in order of how likely it is that the condition is what is causing the symptoms.

The doctor then is expected to go down the list and perform the appropriate medical tests to confirm or rule out each condition, at least until she comes to the appropriate diagnosis.

As long as the patient's true medical condition appears on the doctor's list, the fact the doctor may have ranked it relatively low will not mean the doctor was negligent. The idea is that the doctor would, eventually, get to the correct diagnosis and start treatment.

On the other hand, if a doctor did not even consider the patient's condition in his differential diagnosis, or failed to perform proper tests to rule it out, then a Tucson patient who suffers injuries or a worsened condition as a result may be able to seek compensation for the doctor's negligence.

While not every missed diagnosis is grounds for a medical malpractice case, many are. An Arizona resident who feels a doctor misdiagnosed his condition should consider speaking to an experienced attorney about the possibility of obtaining compensation.

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