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When is a doctor's wrong guess a case of medical malpractice?

Just like other New Yorkers, the residents of Queens and Long Island go to their doctors expecting that they will be able to tell them whether or not they are in good health or, if they are not feeling well, what it is exactly that is ailing them.

Practicing medicine, though, while considered a "science," is also in an art in that it rarely allows for absolute certainty. A doctor is always making his or her best educated guesses when diagnosing, and this means that a doctor can and will get it wrong from time to time.

However, there is a certain point in which a doctor's failure to diagnose correctly is in fact a form of medical negligence under New York law, and thus could be the basis for medical malpractice claims if a patient winds up in a worsened condition because of the doctor's error.

As with all cases of medical malpractice, a patient can sue his or her doctor for a mistaken diagnosis or a failure to diagnose if he or she can prove the doctor did not meet the applicable standard of care, which, in general, is the standards by which a reasonable doctor would practice medicine. In other words, if a hypothetical reasonable doctor would have had to resort to guess work and the real possibility of being wrong when making a diagnosis, then a real doctor won't be held liable for doing the same.

In practice, doctors assess their patients and then come up with several differential diagnoses, or, in descending order of likelihood, a list of the possible reasons a patient is manifesting his or her symptoms. If the patient's actual condition does not make the list, there may be a medical malpractice case. Moreover, if the actual condition does make the list but the doctor does not follow up and rule it out before committing to a course of treatment, a medical malpractice cause of action may exist.

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