Anyone entering a Pittsburgh health clinic would cringe if they were given a fatal diagnosis. It's probably next to impossible to consider what goes on in a patient's mind during such an occurrence.
This did occur for a patient living just south of Pennsylvania where he was presented with a diagnosis of being positive for the HIV virus. As it turns out, the emotional trauma he experienced from being presented with this news was unnecessary because the patient was the victim of a misdiagnosis.
This patient's medical malpractice lawsuit has been ongoing for the past seven years. A dismissal of his claim by a court on the basis that the patient suffered no physical harm had been appealed by his attorney, and the lawsuit was eventually reinstated.
The latest news concerning this lawsuit is that it has been settled out-of-court between the clinic and the patient. The settlement came after the appellate court ruled that patients given a misdiagnosis of a life-threatening or fatal disease can seek damages for emotional distress.
Probably nobody can fully guess the long term consequences of such a mistake. Living with such a mistaken assumption for a number of years could turn out to be a life altering event. Victims may never get over the emotional shock.
In the above circumstance, the mistake came about because of a simple notation error. Apparently, a clinic employee was under the impression that two HIV tests were conducted upon the patient, and that one of the tests did turn out to be positive. As it turned out, only one test was conducted and the result was negative. The patient was never informed of this error until many years later.
Source: The Washington Post, "Suit over wrong HIV diagnosis settled between ex-patient, Whitman-Walker," by Keith L. Alexander, August 10, 2012