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Diagnostic mistakes – the most common medical error

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2013 | Failure To Diagnose

Colorado readers might be interested to discover that, although rarely talked about, misdiagnosis is believed to constitute 10 to 20 percent of medical malpractice cases. That’s far more than drug errors or wrong site surgery.

According to a 2009 report, funded by the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, out of 583 diagnostic errors, 28 percent were life-threatening or had resulted in permanent disability or death. The mistakes were reported anonymously by doctors. Last year, the journal BMJ Quality & Safety published a meta-analysis which found that fatal diagnostic errors in U.S. intensive care units were roughly equivalent to the 40,500 yearly breast cancer deaths that occur in the nation. Additionally, a study by the Texas Veterans Affairs hospital system on medical errors found that many mistakes were made with common diseases like urinary tract infections and pneumonia. Of the 190 errors studied, 87 percent could potentially cause significant to severe harm, including death.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that diagnostic mistakes including missed, incorrect or delayed diagnosis, typically resulted from flawed ways of thinking sometimes paired with negligence and not because a disease is exotic or rare. Such mistakes are also more common in primary-care settings.

In spite of the high percentage of diagnostic errors, they have been overlooked. Such mistakes were mentioned only two times in the landmark 1999 medical errors report by the Institute of Medicine. The omission, according to some patient safety experts, is due to the difficulty of quantifying these types of mistakes, general resistance to addressing the issue and a lack of clear solutions. Recently, however, an influential group of leaders in medicine have been working to bring greater attention to the issue.

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to improve the overall quality of medical care. In cases where a person’s life has been permanently altered by a misdiagnosis or other medical error, there may be financial compensation for their suffering. A medical malpractice attorney may be able to help them obtain a settlement.

Source: The Record, “Misdiagnosis more common than drug errors or wrong-site surgery“, Sandra G. Boodman, June 06, 2013