study warns patients of the real dangers of misdiagnoses

Through no fault of our own, many of us more than likely have a somewhat limited grasp of the term “misdiagnosis,” presuming it is really nothing more than a synonym for “wrong diagnosis.” While this is true to a certain degree, it’s important to understand and appreciate that the term also encompasses a delayed diagnosis and no diagnosis, both of which can prove to be just as devastating to patients as the wrong diagnosis.

To understand just how pervasive misdiagnoses — wrong diagnoses, delayed diagnoses and no diagnoses — actually are, consider a recently published study in the British Medical Journal of Quality & Safety by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The researchers determined that diagnostic errors were behind nearly 35 percent of all medical malpractice claims filed in the United States over the last 25 years, accounting for roughly $39 billion in payouts to injured patients and their families.

“These are the most common and the most costly of all malpractice claims,” said Dr. David Newman-Toker, one of the primary authors of the study. “We have to pay attention to this because it is too big of a problem to ignore.”

In order to arrive at this conclusion, the researchers carefully examined thousands of medical negligence claims filed between 1986 and 2010 that resulted in some form of monetary compensation to victims.

Some of the more interesting findings of the study included:

  • Diagnostic errors were the primary source of claims associated with either death or disability.
  • While the majority of diagnostic errors occurred in outpatient facilities, those that occurred in hospital settings were far more likely to be fatal.
  • Close to 160,000 diagnostic errors resulted in otherwise preventable damage or death in the U.S. each year.

Making matters worse, say the authors, is that there are virtually no systems whatsoever for tracking diagnostic errors made by medical professionals.

“We really have to make it a priority to measure and track diagnostic errors on an ongoing basis as we do other mistakes such as infection and wrong-site surgery,” said Newman-Toker. “They are completely underrepresented in terms of what we pay attention to.”

Fortunately, patients can take simple steps to protect themselves. First and foremost, experts recommend that patients always ask their physicians detailed questions about how and why they arrived at their diagnoses. They also recommend keeping an accurate medical history, sticking to treatment plans and making regular appointments.

Have you or anyone in your family been harmed by a misdiagnosis?

Please visit our website to learn more about diagnostic errors.

Source: WFMJ, “‘Misdiagnosis’ leading cause of U.S. malpractice payouts,” Denise Mann, April 22, 2013

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