Most Common Medical Error in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

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Surgeon operating on the wrong part of a patient’s body.  Administering the wrong medicine or giving the right medicine but in the wrong dosage. A failure to monitor the mother and the baby during childbirth that leads to severe injuries to one or both of them. These are all medical mistakes that are preventable and can lead to serious patient harm or death. According to one estimate, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more than 250,000 fatalities a year.

New evidence shows there is one preventable medical error that accounts for one-third of all medical malpractice lawsuits: medical misdiagnosis.

Types of Medical Misdiagnosis

There are three forms of a medical misdiagnosis:

  • Wrong diagnosis – doctor incorrectly diagnoses a patient’s condition
  • Missed diagnosis – patient’s serious condition is overlooked
  • Delayed diagnosis – eventually a correct diagnosis is made but in the meantime a patient may needlessly suffer or experience long-lasting harm

All can pose potentially grave consequences to patients who are misdiagnosed.

In July, the findings of a study on the dangers medical misdiagnoses pose were released that pinpointed just how widespread and serious the effects to patients are today.

In July, the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, a nonprofit organization comprised of health experts focused on reducing diagnostic errors, published the study’s findings in its magazine, Diagnosis Journal.  The study (“Serious Misdiagnosis-related Harms in Malpractice Claims: The “Big Three” – Vascular Events, Infections, and Cancers”) was conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and CRICO Strategies, a division of an insurance company that provides medical malpractice coverage to physicians.

Researchers examined more than 55,000 medical malpractice claims.  Per a news release issued by the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, “The research confirms that inaccurate or delayed diagnosis remains the most common, most catastrophic and most costly of medical errors.”

The study found that 34 percent of medical malpractice cases in which the patients died or were permanently disabled were attributed to a misdiagnosis. It noted that this research bolsters previous efforts that found as many as 80,000 patients die from a medical misdiagnosis every year in this country.

Most Serious Medical Conditions that are Misdiagnosed

Researchers also identified medical conditions that accounted for the most harm when wrongly diagnosed.  Nearly 75 percent of the most serious misdiagnoses were linked to three patient conditions:

  • Cancer misdiagnosis
  • Vascular misdiagnosis
  • Infection misdiagnosis

A little over a third of the patient deaths or permanent disability were from cancers that were misdiagnosed.  Misdiagnosed vascular conditions accounted for 22 percent of such preventable harm, while another 13.5 percent were attributed to patient infections that were misdiagnosed.

These three categories of medical misdiagnoses produced $1.8 billion in medical malpractice lawsuit payments in 10 years, according to the researchers.

Where Most Misdiagnoses are Made

Most of the cancer misdiagnoses occurred in outpatient settings.  Misdiagnosed infections or vascular problems usually happened in hospital emergency rooms.

The researchers add that blame for wrong, missed or delayed diagnoses does not rest solely with doctors.  They explain that efforts to end misdiagnoses should be implemented system-wide, to include all members of healthcare teams.  And they should be focused on the settings in which the most serious misdiagnoses are made.

When a medical error is made and the patient is seriously injured or dies, identifying who is responsible can often be made difficult by the healthcare providers involved.  If you suspect you or a family member were a victim of medical malpractice, contact an attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice claims to investigate on your behalf.

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

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles August 29, 2019

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