Medical Malpractice – Errors in Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis


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According to an April 2014 study published in the BMJ: Quality & Safety, The frequency of diagnostic errors in outpatient care: estimations from three large observational studies involving US adult populations, medical errors in diagnosis occur at the rate of 5%, or 1 out of every 20 medical diagnoses will involve an error. According to the study, roughly half of these errors could be harmful.

Related: Surgical Mistakes Often Cause Serious Injury, by a Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Lawyer

The researchers reviewed 3 prior studies and confirmed the presence of diagnostic errors via chart review. Diagnostic errors were defined as “missed opportunities to make a timely or correct diagnosis based on available evidence.”

Why Medical Misdiagnosis Occurs

Misdiagnosis usually occurs due to a mistake or series of mistakes made during the process of receiving medical treatment. Misdiagnosis tends to occur in the primary care setting, i.e., by family doctors, but may also involve radiologists and surgeons. Below are common reasons why misdiagnosis occurs:

  • failure to order appropriate tests (diagnostic or lab tests),
  • miscommunication of test results (i.e., provider did not receive results),
  • inappropriate/inadequate follow-up,
  • failure to obtain adequate medical history or physical examination,
  • incorrect performance of diagnostic/lab tests, and
  • incorrect interpretation of diagnostic/lab tests.

Related: Statute of Limitations in a PA Failure to Diagnosis Malpractice Case – A Hypothetical Case Analysis

Common Cases of Misdiagnosis

The most common cases of misdiagnosis involves the following:

  • cancer (breast, colorectal, skin),
  • infection,
  • myocardial infarction (heart attack),
  • embolism, and
  • appendicitis.

Source: Missed and Delayed Diagnoses in the Ambulatory Setting: A Study of Closed Malpractice Claims, Annals of Internal Medicine, October 2006. Researchers studied over 300 closed medical malpractice claims which involved claims of missed or delayed diagnosis in outpatient (ambulatory) care settings. 60% of the total claims involved errors which resulted in harm. Of those, nearly 60% resulted in serious harm and 30% resulted in death.

Injury as a Result of Medical Misdiagnosis

In order to succeed in a medical misdiagnosis case, the injured patient must show that the delay/mistake in diagnosis made a difference in the outcome. The patient must have been adversely affected by the mistake in diagnosis, such as receiving inappropriate treatment or delaying the correct treatment.

Related: Pain and Suffering in a Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Case

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