When people think about medical mistakes, they tend to think of surgical errors (operating on the wrong foot), medication errors (prescribing or distributing the wrong medication or dose) or childbirth errors (waiting too long for a cesarean section).
In fact, the most common medical mistakes are errors in diagnosis. These include missed, wrong or delayed diagnoses of illnesses or injuries. An ectopic pregnancy might be mistaken for appendicitis, an aortic dissection for severe heartburn, or a brainstem stroke for an episode of dizziness.
Sometimes these errors are harmless, especially when discovered quickly and corrected. But other diagnostic errors lead to long-term disability, or even death. When this happens due to negligence by a healthcare provider, it is malpractice.
New Study Shines Light on the Subject
According to a study published in April 2013, diagnostic errors accounted for 34 percent of the disabilities and almost 40 percent of the deaths that resulted in malpractice payments in the United States. The study included data from the past 25 years. It showed that during this time diagnostic errors resulted in 40,000 to 80,000 deaths and many more disabilities.
What Is a Medical Diagnosis?
Medical diagnosis is a systematic method used by healthcare providers to identify a disease or disorder from its symptoms. It is carefully taught as part of a medical education. The provider uses this information to infer one or more possibilities, and then checks these assumptions using specific tests and procedures to arrive at the diagnosis. Treatment is based on this diagnosis.
What Is Faulty Diagnosis?
Faulty diagnoses can be the result of improper medical-history-taking or medical examinations, problems with diagnostic testing, or failure to consult with or refer to an appropriate specialist.
Some diagnostic errors are the result of cognitive shortcomings on the part of the healthcare provider, who made a mistake. One in three diagnostic errors falls into this category. The question then becomes, would the average physician with similar training have made the same mistake in the same situation? If so, medical malpractice is not likely.
Two out of three diagnostic errors are caused at the testing phase by “system” errors such as delayed tests, malfunctioning equipment, or a combination of cognitive and system errors – like misreading test results. Such errors by a provider or a testing facility can constitute medical malpractice.
The Elements of Medical Malpractice
To succeed, a medical diagnosis error lawsuit must meet the same standards as any other medical malpractice lawsuit. There must be a doctor/patient relationship. The doctor must have failed to exercise a proper standard of care. Harm must have resulted and the doctor’s negligence must have caused or contributed to the injury and damage.
Call a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
The law surrounding medical diagnosis errors and medical malpractice is complicated. Plus, the facts in each case and the laws in each state are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the subject. It is not legal advice. For more detailed, specific information about your situation, please contact a medical malpractice lawyer.