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Study highlights the problem of diagnostic errors

Posted by Scott M. Peterson | Sep 23, 2015

The Institute of Medicine has just released the results of a study of medical misdiagnoses that has been hailed as “groundbreaking” .  The results, while somewhat frightening, are unfortunately in line with our observations.

The study, called “Improving Diagnosis In Health Care,” while recognizing that there are no solid statistics relating to incidents of medical misdiagnosis, observed that diagnostic errors occur on a daily basis in hospitals and medical offices throughout the country.

Diagnostic Errors Occur Daily in Hospitals and Medical Offices

The study, which was highlighted in a US News article, suggested that during their lifetime most people will be the victim of some form of misdiagnosis.  In addition studies suggest that approximately 5% of patients annually suffer a misdiagnosis, and perhaps as many as 1 out of 10 deaths are the result of a diagnostic error.

According to the US News report, diagnostic errors are the number one cause of medical malpractice lawsuits, and are nearly twice as likely to be implicated in a patient's death than other medical errors.

So what are the causes of these errors?  A number of factors according to the report.  While patient communication does play a role, the reports cites other causes including errors in information gathering, communication among hospital and medical staff, coordination of medical care and excessive unnecessary testing.

We know from experience that a medical misdiagnosis, or a failure to diagnose, can and does occur as a result of each of the reasons cited above.  We also know that, unfortunately, the present state of the medical system is partially to blame.  The short nature of office visits, the brief and often rushed interactions with providers and “defensive medicine” often lead to the failure of doctors and medical providers to consider alternative diagnoses for which symptoms are clearly present.

There is no simple solution to the problem of errors in medical diagnosis, but the fact that the report has made national news is a good start.

D'Orazio Peterson accepts a small number of cases involving errors in medical diagnosis, including the failure to diagnose cancer.  If you have questions about a diagnostic error give us a call.

About the Author

Scott M. Peterson

Scott M. Peterson is the founding partner of D'Orazio Peterson, having left a partnership at a large regional law firm to limit his practice and focus on helping people protect their families.

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