How Medical Misdiagnoses Occur
Waiting room

An organization focused on preventing serious diagnostic errors recently spelled out why they happen and how they can be avoided.

In October, MedPage Today, an online medical publication, reported on a presentation given at this year’s annual meeting of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine.  SIDM is a nonprofit organization that seeks to eliminate patient harm that comes from a misdiagnosis.

According to SIDM, misdiagnosis is the medical error that results in the most serious patient harm, with a third of medical malpractice lawsuits involving a patient’s death or permanent disability alleging a wrong or delayed diagnosis.

The October 28 MedPage Today report outlined a Boston doctor’s presentation at the SIDM annual meeting. He identified typical scenarios in which a misdiagnosis occurs.  Calling them “pitfalls,” the doctor said he and his research team found repeated patterns that lead to a misdiagnosis, and the medical community should learn from them to avoid serious diagnostic errors in the future.

The researchers identified the pitfalls by analyzing more than 800 closed misdiagnosis medical malpractice lawsuits and other data, as well as conducting physician focus groups.

  • Neurology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Dermatology
  • Pulmonology
  • Rheumatology
  • Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat)

Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions

Based on these efforts, the research team identified these top misdiagnosed serious medical conditions:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stroke
  • Sepsis
  • Bladder cancer
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Brain hemorrhage

Errors Made During the Diagnostic Process

Common decisional errors made during the diagnostic process accounted for one pitfall. Examples of mistakes made during a patient’s diagnosis included:

  • Failure to order a needed medical test
  • Failure to consider the correct diagnosis
  • Doctor’s failure or delay in follow-up after an abnormal test result

Another common diagnostic pitfall is the misinterpretation of a test result.  False positives or false negatives should be investigated further but often times are not.

A misdiagnosis may occur when a medical condition or symptom is caused by a drug or environmental factors, but such factors aren’t considered by the physician.

And, according to the doctor’s presentation, another diagnostic pitfall is when a doctor incorrectly mistakes one disease for another.

The presenting doctor suggested that, to avoid diagnostic errors, other doctors should follow the same research template to identify similar common pitfalls in their respective medical specialties.  He suggested the information uncovered could be a valuable teaching tool for physicians and hospitals to prevent serious diagnostic errors that harm patients.

SIDM reports that a misdiagnosis affects 12 million Americans every year. This is one more indicator of just how serious a potential threat this preventable medical error is to patients and their families.

If you or a loved one was the victim of a medical misdiagnosis, contact a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in conducting medical malpractice investigations.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Blog December 3, 2021


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