Why Children are More Likely to Be Misdiagnosed Than Adults

Commonly Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions in Children

Misdiagnosis can occur when a doctor, hospital, or other medical facility provides negligent care that leads to incorrectly identifying the patient’s medical condition. A 2022 report, published by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, found that of the estimated 130 million people who visit US emergency rooms each year, almost 6% of them are misdiagnosed. This translates to about one in 18 patients getting the wrong diagnosis. Misdiagnosis can occur in both children and adults; however, research suggests that children are more likely to be misdiagnosed than adults. The reasons for this include a variety of factors such as the complexity of childhood development, the limitations of diagnostic tools, the challenge of identifying early warning signs of certain conditions in children, and a lack of ability to communicate by young children.

If your child was harmed by misdiagnosis, they may be entitled to compensation for their injuries and you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills and ongoing care required as a result of misdiagnosis, among other damages. Please contact a local medical misdiagnosis lawyer to discuss your legal rights.

Why Children are More Likely to Be Misdiagnosed Than Adults

Let’s take a look at the reasons that children are more likely to be misdiagnosed than adults:

  1. The child’s developmental stage

One of the main reasons that children are more likely to be misdiagnosed than adults is that their developmental stage must be taken into consideration before a diagnosis can be made. Children’s brains and bodies are still developing, which can make it challenging to distinguish between normal behavior and potential symptoms of a disorder. For example, it is common for a three-year-old to struggle to hold a crayon between their thumb and fingers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying issue in the hand or fingers causing pain or requiring surgery. It can also be hard to identify early warning signs of developmental disorders like autism, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

  1. Limited diagnostic tools for children

For many childhood illnesses, clinicians must rely on behavioral observations and parent reports to diagnose conditions which can be subjective and prone to error. One of the reasons for this is that many diagnostic tests are designed for adults and may not be appropriate for children. For example, MRI scans are often used to diagnose conditions like multiple sclerosis or brain tumors in adults, but they can be difficult to perform on young children who may not be able to stay still or follow instructions.

  1. Failure to recognize symptoms of a condition in a child

Many clinicians may not be familiar with the early warning signs of developmental disorders or may not recognize the symptoms of a condition in a child. This lack of awareness can lead to delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, which can have serious consequences for a child’s health and development. Adding to the problem, some conditions like dyslexia may be dismissed as normal childhood behavior or blamed on parenting styles, rather than being correctly identified as legitimate medical conditions.

  1. Stigma and stereotypes

Stigma and stereotypes can also play a role in misdiagnosis in children. These issues can play out in a variety of ways:

  • Since most children are healthy, doctors may try to reassure parents rather than follow through on concerning symptoms.
  • Some conditions, such as ADHD, are more likely to be diagnosed in boys and misdiagnosed in girls because traditional symptoms such as hyperactivity and disruptive behavior are often more present in boys.
  • Children from certain racial or ethnic backgrounds may be more likely to be misdiagnosed due to cultural stereotypes or biases among healthcare professionals.
  • In some cases, parents are hesitant to seek help for their child due to the stigma associated with certain conditions, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.
  1. Communication challenges

Infants generally do not speak at all and many toddlers lack the vocabulary to clearly communicate symptoms or how they are feeling. This can make it harder for a healthcare provider to identify a clear list of symptoms they can use to order tests and correctly diagnose an illness.

To reduce the chances of children being misdiagnosed, it is important to increase awareness among healthcare professionals about the early warning signs of developmental disorders and to improve the availability and accuracy of diagnostic tools for children. Additionally, reducing stigma and stereotypes surrounding certain conditions can help ensure that children receive timely and appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

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