Study: Missed diagnoses account for most medical malpractice claims

Missed or delayed diagnoses are too common and have severe consequences for patients in Connecticut and across the country.

There are several ways that a physician in Connecticut could commit a diagnostic error. For example, the doctor could fail to order a test or read a test correctly, therefore completely missing a condition. Or, the physician could diagnose the issue as one illness when it really is another. Lastly, the doctor could diagnose a patient, but the diagnosis was delayed for some reason.

In any event, these errors can be devastating, even fatal. According to a recent study, diagnostic errors are the most common reason that people sue physicians for medical malpractice.

The study

In July 2013, the BMJ Open, an online journal that publishes medical research, issued a report concerning primary care physicians and the medical negligence lawsuits brought against them. Researchers from Ireland evaluated 7,152 articles to determine the events that led to these claims, selecting 34 studies from which to pull data. Fifteen of those studies came from the United States.

The findings showed that a missed or delayed diagnosis accounted for 26 to 63 percent of claims evaluated in all studies. The second leading cause, which is a medication error, accounted for between 5.6 and 20 percent.

The issue with a missed diagnosis

The conditions listed among those that were incorrectly or never diagnosed include the following:

  • Cancer and heart attacks, the two most common
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Appendicitis
  • Bone fractures

These issues can quickly become serious when missed. One cause for alarm from this study is that the researchers found that the most common consequence of a missed diagnosis was death. The studies evaluated showed that someone whose condition was not diagnosed died in 15 to 48 percent of the cases.

Preventing the error

An article published in the National Institutes of Health states that in many cases, a doctor's mental shortcuts or bias leads to a diagnostic mistake. For example, a physician may fail to diagnose an illness correctly because he or she has seen a number of patients with symptoms similar to what a patient is reporting. The doctor then assumes that the patient has the same condition the other patients did.

To prevent this, physicians should use checklists to avoid the pitfalls commonly associated with missed or delayed diagnoses. This could include a list that challenges the doctor's existing biases and forces him or her to review the patient in a new light. Further, they must ensure they have the complete medical history of a patient.

Medical negligence can lead to extensive physical, emotional and financial damage. Anyone who has concerns about this topic should consult with a personal injury attorney in Connecticut.