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How Prevalent Are Failure to Diagnose and Misdiagnosis Medical Errors?

What Circumstances Indicate Misdiagnosis or a Failure to Diagnose?

Unfortunately the failure to diagnose and misdiagnosis are common problems and have become even more so since medical practice has become very specialized. Today there are far more names for medical conditions and diseases than ever before along with a plethora of available treatments.

An article appeared in the Washington Post in 2013 entitled “Misdiagnosis is more common than drug errors or wrong-site surgery.“ Studies in the article stressed the degree and extent of damage that misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose have caused for patients.

Various reports revealed the following statistics:

  • Safety experts reported that missed, incorrect and delayed diagnoses have likely affected 10 to 20 percent of medical cases
  • Out of 583 diagnostic mistakes reported, 28 percent were life threatening, or resulted in permanent disability or death
  • Fatal diagnostic errors in U.S. intensive care units equaled the 40,500 deaths resulting annually from breast cancer
  • Errors often involved common diseases such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections
  • Of the pneumonia and urinary tract infection errors, 87 percent had the potential of causing severe harm and inevitable death

An associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine stated that misdiagnosis "happens all the time." It is a "hidden part of the iceberg of medical errors."

What Are Some Underlying Causes of Wrong or Missing Diagnosis?

While each case is different, there are some common errors that are repeated often enough to form a pattern.

In some cases the practitioner simply fails to follow up on test results.

Some medical surroundings are more predisposed for error, such as emergency rooms. ER doctors do not know the patients; they have not followed their medical history the way a family physician has. In the ER interruptions are common along with time constraints to deal with the problem.

In addition to hospitals, primary care doctors are also at risk for diagnostic errors. Sometimes doctors fail to broaden the differential diagnosis. In other words, they do not consider a number of underlying reasons that could cause a set of symptoms.

Failure to study and analyze diagnostic errors has made it an area that is lacking information for correction. Some medical leaders have pointed to the fact that the healthcare system has become increasingly fragmented and medicine as a field has become increasingly complex. High-tech tests are replacing doctor's skills in performing hands-on diagnosis.

Do You Have Questions About Medical Malpractice?

Our attorneys at Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP are glad to answer your questions.

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