Incorrect or Late Diagnosis a Common Problem

October 9, 2015

The Frequency and Far-Reaching Impact of Missed Diagnoses

Most people in today’s society—including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists—are operating in a bit of a hurry. Unfortunately, working in a rush or just not being careful enough can lead to mistakes that cause devastating injuries or death. Patients rely on medical professionals to accurately diagnose ailments and to recommend effective treatment. They put their lives in the hands of doctors and nurses, and they trust that healthcare providers have and use the experience and training they need to help patients recover. When healthcare providers make a mistake and miss a diagnosis, conditions that may have previously been easily treatable can progress into serious or even life-threatening situations.

New Report Finds That Most Americans Experience an Incorrect or Late Diagnosis in Their Lifetimes

A recent report from the National Academy of Medicine, featured in an article by NBC News, contained some disturbing information about the prevalence of missed and late diagnoses, as well as some disturbing information about the effect that those wrong diagnoses have on patients. While it can be difficult to measure because there is no agency that collects information about doctor and hospital errors, ultimately making up part of the problem in the first place, the study found that the problem is still a big one.

Dr. John Ball, chairman of the committee that prepared the report, said that “everyone will experience one meaningful diagnostic error in their lifetime.” Even with the limited data on diagnostic errors, the study found that:

  • Diagnostic errors account for six to 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals.
  • Each year, five percent or more of adults in the United States who receive outpatient care experience an error in diagnosis.
  • Looking at available postmortem exams, missed and late diagnoses contribute to 10 percent of patient deaths.

Ball also says that the issue is “an under-represented and understudied area in medicine, and we need to shine a light on it.” Currently, there is no government body that patients or doctors can report to when something goes wrong, and there is no government oversight in place that protects patients from errors.

Previous Studies Draw Similar Conclusions About the Problem of Wrong Diagnoses and Medical Mistakes

The Institute of Medicine released a report in back in 1998 that showed that tens of thousands of patients die from mistakes made by hospitals, doctors, and care providers.

Also, according to a HealthDay report in 2013, “Most malpractice claims against primary care doctors are the result of drug errors and missed diagnoses, particularly of cancer, heart attack, and meningitis.” After analyzing 34 studies, researchers found that “the most common consequence of missed diagnoses in malpractice claims was death, which occurred in 15 percent to 48 percent of the claims.” The review also found that “the second most common reason for malpractice claims were drug errors, accounting for between 5.6 percent and 20 percent of all claims in the studies.”

Preventing Diagnosis Errors and Improving Patient Care

While there are many factors that contribute to the problem, the researchers in these studies have identified a number of changes that could help to prevent diagnostic errors and the impact on patients. These recommendations include:

  • More involvement from radiologists and pathologists
  • Better communication between care providers
  • Allowing billing for doctor-to-doctor communication about patient care
  • Changes to medical malpractice laws that make it more likely that professionals will admit diagnostic mistakes
  • More regular performance of autopsies and postmortem exams
  • Development of better guidelines for patient care and error reporting
  • Better training for care providers and medical staff
  • Changes to the culture of hospitals and other medical facilities that discourage reporting doctor mistakes
  • More widespread use of technology and more integrated electronic medical record systems
  • Identifying medical mistakes and using that information to improve procedures and patient care
  • Development of a government body to handle reporting and data collection for diagnostic errors

Ultimately, these studies tell us how important it is for doctors and patients alike to be thorough in their attention to diagnosing a patient’s problems. Doctors are urged to take the time they need with their patients to fully understand their signs, symptoms, and complaints. Patients, in turn, are cautioned to make sure their doctors and therapists take the time to listen to them and to make sure they really do understand what the patient is going through. Errors in diagnosis can often be prevented, and as we’ve heard so many times, “an ounce of prevention is often worth a pound of cure.”

If you or a loved one has suffered injury because of a missed diagnosis, an improper diagnosis, or another medical error, you may be able to seek compensation for what has happened to your family. For more information, please contact the experienced attorneys with Lane & Lane today at312-332-1400 to speak with us about your options, or fill out the confidential contact form on this page with more details about your concerns.

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