While medical professionals work diligently treating COVID-19 patients, there is another threat – misdiagnosing the potentially fatal virus. A medical misdiagnosis is a common and serious type of preventable medical error. According to the nonprofit Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, as many as 80,000 patients die from a misdiagnosis in the United States every year. About the same number are permanently disabled.
Types of Medical Diagnostic Errors
There are several forms of a medical misdiagnosis:
· Delayed diagnosis
· Missed diagnosis
· Wrong diagnosis
Research ((“Rate of Diagnostic Errors and Serious Misdiagnosis-related Harms for Major Vascular Events, Infections, and Cancers: Toward a National Incidence Estimate Using the ‘Big Three’) published earlier this year in Diagnosis found that these three serious medical conditions are the most likely to be misdiagnosed:
· Cancer – including lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer
· Infections – including sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia
· Vascular Events – including stroke, myocardial infarction and aortic aneurysm
The study determined that about 10 percent of patients suffering from one of these serious medical conditions were misdiagnosed. Over half of the misdiagnosed patients died or suffered serious disability.
But the current health crisis today is the novel coronavirus. Much has been learned about the virus in a short time, including COVID-19 misdiagnoses.
In May, researchers published an article in the Journal of Hospital Medicine (“Reducing the Risk of Diagnostic Error in the COVID-19 Era”) that identifies several ways the coronavirus is misdiagnosed.
Delayed or Missed COVID-19 Diagnosis
They categorized eight different diagnostic errors involving COVID-19. They include:
· A delayed COVID-19 diagnosis due to lack of tests or a false negative test result
· A missed COVID-19 diagnosis when a patient suffers from non-COVID symptoms, especially without any accompanying breathing issues
· Assuming a patient has COVID-19 when they have a different condition, such as bacterial pneumonia. Providing COVID treatments in these cases may cause the patient more harm.
· Failure to diagnose serious secondary conditions caused by COVID-19, such as blood clots in the lungs
· Failure to diagnosis and treat a COVID-19 patient due to times of heavy demand in a hospital
· Failure to diagnosis COVID-19 due to lack of direct contact with the patient, either because of telehealthing or a doctor’s personal protective equipment
A missed coronavirus diagnosis was also attributed to a patient’s fear of going to a hospital during the pandemic.
After identifying the many reasons and causes for a COVID-19 misdiagnosis, the authors cited ways to prevent them from occurring.
They recommend the use of the latest technology to aid in the diagnostic process, and promoting good two-way communication with patients and appropriate follow-up visits.
Hospital administrators should not only focus on COVID-19 patients, but the doctors who treat them. The authors call for pairing up healthcare workers when treating COVID-19, especially for the least experienced doctors, and alleviating stress in the workplace for all medical staff.
Misdiagnosing any serious disease is a preventable event. Patients and their families should not suffer needlessly from an avoidable medical error, even during a catastrophic pandemic.
If you believe you or a loved one was the victim of a serious error during medical care, speak with a medical malpractice attorney about your legal options.
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.
Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog August 7, 2020