Medical Malpractice: Diagnostic Errors

Medical malpractice describes a situation where a healthcare professional deviated from the applicable standard of care for their profession in treating a patient, and thereby caused damages.

When physicians, nurses, therapists and other healthcare professionals fail to abide by the applicable standard of care for their profession, and this results in injury to their patient, the injured patient may be able to bring a claim for medical malpractice.

Diagnostic-related errors comprise a significant number of the medical malpractice cases in the courts. These cases often involve allegations of failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis and failure to refer a patient to a needed specialist. Damages in these cases often involve significant injury and even death.

The Serious Nature of Diagnostic Errors

A 2013 study reported in BM Quality and Safety revealed that diagnostic errors are the type of medical errors most likely to lead to disability or death. They were also responsible for a large portion of med-mal claim payouts, nearly $40 billion, between 1986 and 2010.

Though exact statistics on the incidence of diagnostic errors are sadly lacking, available information demonstrates the very serious consequences of these types of medical errors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported alarming statistics from studies completed by Harvard Medical Practice and John Hopkins:

  • In hospitalized patients, diagnostic errors are responsible for 17 percent of preventable errors.
  • Nearly 30 percent of the 350,000 claims reviewed over a 25-year period were attributable to diagnostic errors.
  • Every year, permanent injury or death in approximately 160,000 U.S. patients is due to errors in diagnoses.
  • The largest portion of med-mal claim payouts is the result of failure to diagnose and misdiagnosis.

Types of Diagnostic Errors

Failure to Diagnose / Missed Diagnosis

Failure to diagnose a serious condition can lead to severe consequences, including death. A patient presenting with specific symptoms and medical problems must receive screening to determine what is causing the symptoms. When a medical professional ignores or fails to recognize these signs, the patient misses the opportunity to receive essential early treatment that might improve the outcome of their medical condition.

Delayed Diagnosis / Late Diagnosis

In some cases, a healthcare provider may diagnose a medical problem too late. This leads to a delay in treatment which can have important bearing on the patient’s health and their ability to recover from a medical condition or disease. When this delay is caused by a failure to follow-up in a timely manner, poor screening or other careless behavior, this may be a case of medical malpractice.

Misdiagnosis / Inaccurate Diagnosis

Receiving the wrong diagnosis presents obvious dangers to the health of a patient with a disease, injury or other medical condition. Contributing factors which may lead to this type of error include poor training, miscommunication, faulty equipment, and testing errors.

Failure to Refer

Often, primary care providers serve as gate-keepers to more specialized care. It’s vital that general physicians recognize their own limitations and refer patients to specialists when necessary. A failure to do so can delay a vital diagnosis or lead to a missed diagnosis of a serious medical condition. If a PCP attempts to make a diagnosis of a disease or condition outside of their area of expertise, a misdiagnose could result.

Medical malpractice cases are complex matters that benefit from experienced legal counsel. At the Reinartz Law Firm, our experienced medical malpractice lawyers can review the circumstances of your medical issue, explain your rights and options, and help you pursue a claim when warranted.