A new study examining claims from 2013 to 2017 showed that diagnostic errors were the largest source of medical malpractice claims during those years.  Studies like this one highlight the factors that most commonly lead to medical malpractice claims, as well as identifying the challenges that healthcare providers face when making decisions.

Let’s take a closer look at what researchers found, discuss some of the most common diagnostic errors that patients experience, and explore what you can do to protect your health and your legal rights.

Diagnostic Errors Largest Source of Medical Malpractice Claims

According to research provided by Coverys, 33 percent of medical malpractice claims filed between 2013 and 2017 were related to diagnostic errors.  Half of these claims were related to poor clinical decision-making.  Researchers reviewed more than 10,000 medical malpractice claims, which revealed the following information:

  • Approximately 36 percent of diagnostic-related claims involved a patient death.
  • An additional 36 percent of claims occurred in an outpatient setting.
  • Around 33 percent of diagnostic-related claims included claims that the healthcare provider:
    • Failed to properly evaluate the patient
    • Failed to obtain adequate family history or medical records
  • Around 52 percent of claims involved diagnostic errors related to laboratory testing, including:
    • Doctors ordering the wrong test
    • Technicians improperly performing the test
    • Tests being misinterpreted
  • Among all claims, 14 percent involved radiologists.

While other areas of medical malpractice related claims have decreased over this period of time, the number of diagnosis-related claims has remained steady.  Researchers reported that the second largest source of medical malpractice claims was surgical or procedural-related claims, which accounted for 24 percent of claims.

Most Common Diagnostic Errors

There are a variety of factors that may contribute to diagnostic errors, but there are three causes considered the most common.  These factors include:

  • Failure to Review Medical History: One of the leading causes of diagnostic errors is a healthcare providers’ failure to adequately review the patient’s medical history. Part of the reason why errors occur due to a lack of medical history is because sometimes there are breakdowns in the transfer of medical records.  Electronic medical records that are accessible across offices has helped this problem, but it is still up to the provider to ensure that all records are reviewed prior to making a diagnosis or ordering treatment.
  • Breakdowns in Communication: The second leading cause of diagnostic errors is a breakdown in communication between the doctor and patient. Patients sometimes have a hard time communicating their symptoms, especially if they are in pain or have many ailments.  It can be helpful to make a list of symptoms, concerns, or questions before going to see your doctor.  During your appointment, give that list to your doctor and make sure that you get answers, or are referred to someone else if needed.
  • Cognitive Errors: Cognitive errors occur when doctors make poor decisions about the diagnostic process. For example, writing off symptoms or prematurely exiting the diagnostic process.  When doctors fail to consider every possibility, or write off symptoms as something benign, they put patients who may be very ill at risk for serious health consequences, or even death.

How Can Diagnostic Errors be Prevented?

This new research on diagnostic errors highlights the significance of medical errors and a more focused area of concern on diagnosis and related clinical procedure and decision-making.  Researchers have noted that misdiagnoses often occur due to healthcare providers being overworked, understaffed, or having inadequate resources to make a thorough diagnosis.

Researchers recommend healthcare providers use a team-based approach when making a diagnosis or addressing difficult healthcare matters.  A team-based approach can offer opinion and expertise of a team of healthcare providers, which often results in a correct diagnosis.  If healthcare providers are unsure, they should seek the advice of their colleagues who may have more experience, training, or a unique perspective.

Another way that diagnostic errors can be prevented is by reducing the pressure placed on doctors to keep visits with patients short.  Many readers will recall instances of their doctor hurrying through the diagnostic process, or even leaving the room before all questions were answered.  This is a dangerous practice that puts patients at risk.  Healthcare providers must prioritize, but also must pay adequate attention to each and every patient.

What to Do after a Diagnostic Error

If you have been improperly diagnosed, or your health was negatively affected by a delayed diagnosis, you may have many questions about what you can do.  It is natural to feel vulnerable, emotional, and frustrated after experiencing a medical error.

The best way to get answers and sort through your situation is to contact a medical malpractice attorney.  A medical malpractice attorney can help you understand your legal rights as a patient, as well as the legal responsibilities of healthcare providers.  A skilled attorney can also provide you with options for defending your rights and pursuing justice.

To learn more about diagnostic errors or other medical malpractice claims, contact Brown & Brothers to speak with one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys.  You can schedule a free consultation by filling out our online form, or by calling our office at 1-877-761-0905.

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