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Missed Diagnosis/ Wrong Diagnosis/ Failure To Test

A substantial number of Massachusetts medical malpractice cases stem from a missed diagnosis, wrong diagnosis or a failure to test.

Boston medical malpractice attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman recognize, while certain conditions may be difficult to treat or accurately diagnose, the question is whether the health care provider or lab worker breached accepted standard of care. That is, would a reasonable professional in the same circumstances most likely have done things differently, resulting in a better outcome?

A 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine, entitled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care,” revealed the majority of Americans who see a doctor will receive at least one diagnosis that is wrong or delayed at some point in their lives. These errors adversely impact some 12 million adults annually, or about 5 percent of all adults who seek outpatient care.

The Scope of the Issue

Researchers note this is a relatively new focus of patient safety study. In the past, most analytic efforts spotlighted problems that involved mistakes made in hospitals. Diagnostic errors, though, often occur in doctors’ offices, labs, surgical centers and outpatient facilities (though they can happen in hospitals as well).

According to the panel of independent medical experts who conducted the study, the problem is going to get worse as the diagnostic process continues to get more complex.

This is the same organization that, in 1999, dropped a bombshell when it revealed nearly 100,000 people died in hospitals every year because of medical errors. But even that study didn’t give much lip service to the problem of diagnostic errors. New research indicates 440,000 Americans die every year as a result of medical errors.

The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed in a 2012 study that cases of delayed, missed or incorrect diagnoses are “common,” with an incidence rate of between 10 to 20 percent. That means the issue far exceeds the number of medication mistakes or surgical errors involving the wrong body part. Yet the latter two tend to get far more attention.

Another analysis that same year in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety opined deadly diagnostic errors just in in U.S. intensive care units alone reach about 40,500 annually. That’s the same number of people who die every year from breast cancer.

The Cost of Diagnostic Errors

A missed, delayed or wrongful diagnosis can have severe consequences to a patient’s health and safety. A federal report by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found in 2009 that of the nearly 600 diagnostic mistakes reported anonymously by physicians, nearly 30 percent had been life-threatening or resulted in death or permanent disability.

Another study in 2013, involving analysis of a large, urban Veterans Affairs hospital, revealed most diagnostic errors involved things like urinary tract infections and pneumonia. That might sound benign, but in fact, 87 percent had the potential to cause severe harm – including death.

The loss of life and life enjoyment is the greatest cost to society. Consider also that according to 2013 research by Johns Hopkins Hospital doctors, diagnostic errors accounted for the largest percentage of medical malpractice claims from 1986 through 2010. Further, they discovered payouts related to improper diagnosis issues amounted to nearly $40 billion nationally during those years.

Those researchers estimated that between 80,000 and 160,000 people suffer significant permanent injury or death as a result of diagnosis-related medical malpractice. What’s more, these cases resulted in death or disability almost twice as often as other types of medical errors.

Failure to Test

Failure to test is a subset of diagnostic error that involves a physician or other medical professional failing to order the appropriate diagnostic test. When this happens, a serious health condition may be overlooked, resulting in severe patient harm and possibly even death.

A 2006 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that of hundreds of closed medical malpractice lawsuits, 55 percent involved failure to order the right diagnostic test. Some of the reasons cited for this failure included:

  • Errors in judgment (79 percent)
  • Vigilance or memory mistakes (59 percent)
  • Lack of knowledge (48 percent)
  • Handoff miscommunications (20 percent)

There are many instances in which a provider could be held liable for failure to order the appropriate test. For example, women who suffer heart attacks often have more subtle symptoms than men. An emergency room doctor who fails to recognize this and promptly order the correct tests could be liable. Similarly, a doctor who specializes in internal medicine and fails to order a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for a man with urinary symptoms could also be subject to a medical malpractice claim if that man is later found to suffer from cancer that could have been caught sooner.

If you or a loved one has received a diagnosis that was significantly delayed, missed or wrong, contact our offices today.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL

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