Diagnostic Errors Are Growing

With almost 70,000 diseases and only 200 presenting symptoms, it’s no wonder that diagnostic errors are common, but medical misdiagnoses are not easily tracked or managed and could lead to devastating consequences, according to an article in The Doctor Weighs In. In fact, medical misdiagnosis is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

“Misdiagnoses are the single largest cause of medical malpractice lawsuits,” according to a Johns Hopkins study, quoted the report, “with an estimated 80,000 to 160,000 potentially avoidable deaths and significant injuries each year.” Overall misdiagnosis rates range from 5-15% in the U.S., but for some diseases such as celiac, rates can be as much as 97%. The Institute of Medicine noted that most people will be misdiagnosed at least once in their lifetimes, and the results can be devastating.

There are three major types of diagnostic errors. Providers may furnish the wrong diagnosis, such as identifying acid indigestion instead of a heart attack. Doctors may provide a delayed diagnosis, which may make it harder to treat certain diseases such as cancer which can worsen and spread. Finally, providers may completely miss the diagnosis and the patient goes untreated.

Telemedicine may increase the possibility for diagnostic errors. When doctors cannot perform a physical exam and rely mainly on patient descriptions, important information may be missed. Telemedicine has been associated with misdiagnosing cancer, stroke, infection and orthopedic concerns, among others.

System infrastructure, clinician shortages, and value-based reimbursement often are contributing factors. If there is not adequate time to see a patient for a thorough medical history, or if critical diagnostic tests are unavailable or too expensive, there may be increased opportunity for medical misdiagnosis. There is a lack of data on medical misdiagnosis for a variety of reasons, noted the article. The provider isn’t always aware of the corrected diagnosis. There’s also a reluctance to report on diagnostic errors due to fear of malpractice suits.

Medical misdiagnosis cases can be complex; successful lawsuits require an experienced eye. If you would like to talk to an attorney experienced in medical malpractice, please reach out to us. Our firm is recognized as a leader in litigating medical malpractice, misdiagnosis and negligence cases throughout Pennsylvania.