Misdiagnosis Shown to Be Leading Cause of Medical Malpractice

According to a recently released study, 80,000 to 160,000 patients are harmed or killed by misdiagnosis by healthcare professionals every year, making such type of errors the leading cause of medical malpractice in the United States.

The study was reported by BMJ Quality &Safety, a trade magazine for healthcare managers and clinicians, and conducted by John Hopkins University. Researchers reviewed over 350,000 paid medical malpractice claims. Of those, 28.6 percent were attributed to diagnostic errors. Researchers extrapolated the data to arrive at the annual number of patients harmed by diagnosis errors.

Types of Medical Errors

Researchers categorized the types of medical errors included in the study. Besides misdiagnosis, the categories included:

• Treatment errors

• Surgical errors

• Medication errors

• Obstetrical errors

Patients died in 41 percent of the instances of diagnostic errors. Another 39 percent died as a result of surgical errors and 26 percent died from treatment mistakes.

Diagnostic errors were found to result in $38.8 billion in medical malpractice lawsuit claims, the highest total for any type of medical malpractice, including surgical errors or medication mistakes, identified between 1986 and 2010.

Diagnostic errors include missed diagnoses and diagnosses that were delayed. Errors in diagnosis were found to cause patient death or disability twice as often as any other medical error. The study’s authors say that there may have been even more diagnostic errors than they found because they are often difficult to identify when investigating cases of medical malpractice.

Inpatient Care Misdiagnosis Most Deadly

Further still, diagnostic errors happened much more frequently in outpatient care than inpatient treatment – 68.8 percent versus 31.2 percent. But errors of diagnosis in inpatient settings were much more likely to be fatal for patients.

If you believe you or your loved one may have been a victim of medical misdiagnosis or any other type of medical error, consult an attorney experienced in investigating medical malpractice claims.