Failure to Order Appropriate Tests and Medical Practice

This Doctor and his Assistant discuss their Failure to Order Appropriate Tests which resulted in issues for the patient.

Many medical malpractice lawsuits stem from diagnostic errors, whether a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis. Research indicates that one of the leading causes of missed and delayed diagnoses is failure by a medical professional to order an appropriate diagnostic test. When the right medical tests aren’t ordered, a patient’s health condition might be overlooked. This can lead to serious patient harm and even death.

If you have reason to believe that you or a family member suffered harm because the appropriate medical tests were not ordered, the Seattle medical malpractice lawyers at Tinker Law Firm, PLLC can help. Through a free initial case review we’ll let you know how victims of medical malpractice can protect their rights under Washington law. To get started, fill out our online contact form.

Why would a doctor fail to test appropriately?

A 2006 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at more than 300 closed medical malpractice cases that alleged a missed or delayed diagnosis. The researchers found that failure to order an appropriate diagnostic test, which occurred in 55 percent of cases, was the most common diagnostic error.

The study provides evidence as to why diagnostic tests are not administered. The leading factors that contributed to missed and delayed diagnoses involved:

  • Failures in judgment (79 percent)
  • Vigilance or memory (59 percent)
  • Knowledge (48 percent)
  • Handoffs (20 percent)

Because these factors contribute to all diagnostic errors and not failure to order tests alone, they shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the leading reasons why a doctor would fail to order an X-ray, MRI, blood test, CT scan, or other type of diagnostic test.

Diagnostic testing errors are illustrated by the well-known example of heart attacks in women. Because women display different and more subtle heart attack symptoms than men, a significant number of women have gone to emergency rooms while suffering a heart attack, but have been misdiagnosed with psychiatric problems, anxiety, or other conditions. In this example, a medical professional who is not abreast of medical science regarding heart attacks in female patients may fail to recognize the symptoms and fail to order tests that could successfully lead to a diagnosis of cardiac disease.

In other cases, appropriate tests may not be ordered because a doctor who sees a patient with health issues outside of his or her area of expertise fails to refer the patient to a medical specialist. Or, a doctor could note the correct diagnosis as one of several potential diagnoses but simply fail to follow through with appropriate testing. When a patient is handed off from one medical provider to another, the need for appropriate testing can fall through the cracks

Who can be held responsible for failure to order tests?

There are many scenarios in which a health care provider could negligently fail to order appropriate tests for a patient. A gynecologist could, for example, fail to order a mammogram for a woman who reports breast changes. An internal medicine specialist could neglect to order a PSA test for a man with urinary symptoms. are examples of actual cases that led to medical malpractice claims. Other examples involve injuries ranging from fractures to appendicitis to heart attacks. Not only primary care physicians and specialists, but also emergency room physicians and other medical professionals may negligently fail to order appropriate tests.

Regardless of who bears responsibility for the failure to order appropriate medical tests, the harm that results may be severe or even fatal. The time to file a claim, however, is limited, so don’t delay in contacting Tinker Law Firm, PLLC if you believe that a medical provider’s failure to order a test led to a negative outcome for you or a close relative.

Our medical malpractice attorneys have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of the victims of medical negligence in Seattle and elsewhere in Washington. We work with doctors, nurses, and other medical experts to review medical records for evidence of negligence in failing to order appropriate tests and other types of medical errors. To talk to our team about your situation, call us today or fill out our online contact form for a free claim evaluation.


  • The Mayo Clinic – Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  • Annals of Internal Medicine – Missed and Delayed Diagnoses in the Ambulatory Setting: A Study of Closed Malpractice Claims
  • American Journal of Roentgenology – Liability for Failure to Order Screening Examinations
  • Thomson American Health Consultants – Standard of care: Does it exist in every malpractice case?
  • The Internet Journal of Family Practice – The five most common misdiagnoses: a meta-analysis of autopsy and malpractice data
  • British Medical Journal – The epidemiology of malpractice claims in primary care: a systemic review
  • American Association for Justice – Medical Negligence: The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights