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Health & Medicine

What are the Root Causes of Delayed Diagnosis?

— December 11, 2020

Delayed diagnosis of medical conditions happens all the time in the world of medicine, but why exactly is this? Find out the root causes, here…

Delayed diagnosis of a medical condition is as serious as it comes. The repercussions could mean a lack of much-needed medical care, increasing your mortality rate day-by-day, in serious cases.

With COVID-19 causing a huge upsurge in patient numbers, the NHS are simply not equipped for dealing with so many patients. This, alongside many other factors, means delayed diagnosis of serious medical conditions is on the rise. The question is, what are the root causes of this issue, both now and pre-COVID?

Whether your GP was negligent, discrimination was present, or it was down to COVID-19, delayed diagnosis can happen for a myriad of reasons. In this article, we’re going to let you in on these many reasons. By educating ourselves on these causes, we can push for greater awareness, so people start pushing for their diagnoses sooner.

  1. Medical Negligence

Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional makes an avoidable mistake which potentially puts the life of a patient at risk. It can occur in a number of scenarios, which can lead to a medical negligence claim, including:

  • The wrong medication being administered
  • The wrong quantities of medication being given
  • The wrong surgery being performed
  • Negligent medical advice being given
  • Ignoring certain symptoms
  • Misdiagnosis of symptoms
  • Symptoms are completely missed altogether
  • Injuries during childbirth and pregnancy

In terms of medical negligence and delayed diagnosis, the main factor will be the ignoring or misdiagnosis of symptoms. This sort of negligence could mean that serious conditions are missed, leaving the patient worse off if it is diagnosed further down the line.

  1. Not Visiting the GP

Some patients, no matter how sick they are or what symptoms they have, simply won’t head to the GP. This occurs for a number of reasons, including:

  • Medical anxiety, or white-coat syndrome
  • Feeling like a cog in a machine
  • Embarrassing symptoms
  • Symptoms aren’t serious or noticeable
  • Feeling like you’re wasting peoples’ time

Especially now, during the pandemic, this issue is exacerbated. This is because, alongside the above list, people are also worried about catching COVID. So, in order to avoid doing so, they steer clear from medical visits altogether.

  1. Gender Issues

Although you would think that this is something that occurred in a bygone era, gender issues in the medical world are still very much prevalent. Thousands of years ago, female hysteria was diagnosed for a myriad of medical problems. Unfortunately, this idea still pervades for a number of reasons, including:

  • Lack of understanding of female problems
  • Lack of research going into female problems
  • Medical research has always been predominantly male dominated, until recent decades
  • The pervasive idea that women are “hysterical” if they received unexplainable symptoms

A really prevalent example of where these factors come into play is endometriosis. This condition occurs when the lining of the womb grows outside of the uterus. It can cause a lot of pain, and sometimes even infertility.

Person in grey hoodie holding sign saying, “Girls Just Wanna Have FUNdamental Rights”; image by Lucia, via
Person in grey hoodie holding sign saying, “Girls Just Wanna Have FUNdamental Rights”; image by Lucia, via

Due to the lack of research and understanding into this relatively common medical issue, a lot of people receive diagnoses years into their symptoms. This is because the symptoms are often dismissed as simply being a “bad period”. This alone goes to show the inherent issues within the system which need to change if women are to receive equal treatment.

  1. Race Issues

Similarly, those from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community also experience medical disparities which can cause delayed diagnosis.

Specifically, the lack of BAME representation in medical textbooks is a crisis. These days, almost all textbooks contain images of white skin for all medical conditions, but these can look very different on darker skin. It means that those with dark skin may have serious conditions missed due to doctors not knowing what to look for.

What’s more, BAME individuals are often dismissed in the medical room, for a number of reasons. These might include:

  • Racial discrimination
  • Trouble interpreting language
  • Inability to provide culturally appropriate services

A prime example of this is the treatment of black pregnant people, who are five times more likely to die during pregnancy than white people. This occurs due to the above reasons, as well as patient neglect and not heeding black women’s concerns – a worrying statistic.

  1. Economic Status

Another disparity in diagnosis is the economic status of patients. Those who live in areas with a low socio-economic background are often left to fend for themselves with medical problems. This could be due to a number of factors, including:

  • No time to see a doctor due to working multiple jobs and caring for children
  • Living in urban areas, where access to GPs is minimal
  • Inability to afford public transport to head to the doctors
  • Money problems, meaning paying for certain medication and tests is impossible
  • If you’re homeless, and without an address, being appointed a GP is tricky

Couple this with the fact that those within these areas are much more likely to develop medical problems due to cramped and polluted living conditions, and we have a melting pot of problems.

  1. NHS Shortages

Even before the pandemic, the NHS were struggling with staff cuts, lack of resources, and low pay. This meant that, even on a good day, staff were overworked and may not have had the proper resources to diagnose properly.

Now, what with COVID-19, this is exacerbated tenfold. The lack of hospital beds and available staff means that there’s simply not enough care to go around. This means that prioritisation has had to occur, so those with worrying symptoms may have been left on the wayside.

  1. Lack of Knowledge

Lack of knowledge, on both the patient side and the doctor’s side, also compounds the problem. No doctor can know absolutely everything, and medial education is limited to some extent, as no topic can be covered completely. This can sometimes make forming an informed diagnosis tricky.

What’s more, patients who are experiencing certain symptoms may not know these are problematic. Their lack of knowledge may mean they’re unable to express their symptoms fully to a doctor. Especially if the symptoms are minor, hinting at something more sinister, without this knowledge they may simply get on with their lives.

  1. COVID-19

We’ve alluded to this here and there, but it’s time to give this point it’s due. After all, the pandemic has caused major issues within the medical world. For example, worrying research shows that the effects of COVID-19 on the mortality rates of cancer patients will be devastating in the coming years.

In terms of how the virus has affected the diagnosis of patients, there are a number of ways it has done so. These include:

  • Online consultations making communicating symptoms difficult
  • Overworked staff may miss important signs
  • Restricted patient contact might also mean signs are missed
  • Delayed tests and appointments, meaning symptoms are left untested

Don’t Fall Victim to a Delayed Diagnosis!

As you can see, delayed diagnosis can occur due to a huge array of issues, many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The main lesson we can learn from this is, if you are worried about anything, push for a diagnosis as much as possible. If this doesn’t work, be sure to seek a second opinion, and maybe even look into private medical care.

A lot of it is down to you. We wish you luck in getting your diagnosis.

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