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Misdiagnosis Is the Most Common Form of Medical Malpractice. What Does This Mean for You?

Written by Berkowitz

Medical malpractice report documents, stethoscope, and gavel.

When you seek medical treatment at your doctor’s office, a clinic, or the hospital, you expect to receive an accurate diagnosis. After all, accurately diagnosing your condition is the first step toward providing appropriate treatment. And if your condition is misdiagnosed, you aren’t going to receive the treatment you need. Not only that, but receiving a misdiagnosis could also mean receiving treatment you don’t need, and this has the potential to have a serious negative impact on your health. In short, receiving an accurate diagnosis is extremely important.

Yet, doctors misdiagnose their patients’ medical conditions with alarming frequency. Misdiagnosis is the most common form of medical malpractice. And while the known scope of the problem is enormous, it is also widely understood that many, if not most, cases of misdiagnosis go unreported. Whether patients don’t know they have been misdiagnosed, they are hesitant to second-guess their doctors, or they don’t know what to do about the problem, a significant percentage of patients in Connecticut and across the country suffer unnecessarily due to medical mistakes every year.

Two Recent Studies Show That Misdiagnosis Is the Most Common Form of Medical Malpractice By Far

In 2019, two medical malpractice insurance carriers released studies that examined the most common triggers for medical malpractice claims. In one study, insurance carrier Coverys found that 47% of medical malpractice claims against doctors that resulted in payment over the five-year period from 2013 to 2017 arose out of diagnostic errors. This was well over twice the prevalence of the second most common cause of successful medical malpractice claims, surgical and procedural errors, which accounted for 18 percent of paid claims.

According to Coverys’ data, the most common grounds for successful medical malpractice claims from 2013 through 2017 were:

  • Diagnostic errors: 47%
  • Surgical and procedural errors: 18%
  • Medical management errors: 9%
  • Obstetric malpractice: 8%
  • Medication errors: 7%
  • Patient monitoring errors: 5%
  • Anesthesia errors: 2%
  • Patient environment and safety-related issues: 2%

Within the misdiagnosis category, Coverys also found that diagnostic errors occur throughout the patient care cycle. Among compensated medical malpractice claims between 2013 and 2017, Coverys reports the prevalence of diagnostic errors as follows:

  • History and physical examination (H&P)/patient evaluation: 33%
  • Ordering of diagnostic laboratory tests: 24%
  • Performance of diagnostic and laboratory tests: 2%
  • Receipt and transmittal of test results: 5%
  • Interpretation of test results: 23%
  • Patient referrals: 12%
  • Doctor follow-up with patient: 7%

In a completely separate study, The Doctors Company analyzed 10 years’ worth of claims data involving pediatric care. Similar to the Coverys study, The Doctors Company found that diagnostic errors were far and away the most common cause of medical malpractice claims. Excluding neonatal care, approximately 35% of claims each year from 2008 through 2017 were “diagnosis-related” (including failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis, and wrong diagnosis), with the next three most-common causes of claims all averaging around 7% or 8% (improper treatment management, improper surgery, and improper performance of other treatments or procedures).

Breaking claims down by age group, The Doctors Company found as follows:

  • 14% of neonatal medical malpractice claims were diagnosis related (second to obstetrics malpractice at 63%).
  • 44% of medical malpractice claims involving patients between one and 11 months of age were diagnosis related (followed by medical treatment errors at 21%).
  • 38% of medical malpractice claims involving patients between one and nine years of age were diagnosis related (followed by medical treatment errors at 22%).
  • 34% of medical malpractice claims involving patients between 10 and 17 years of age were diagnosis related (followed by surgical treatment errors at 23%).

As these studies show, misdiagnosis (including delayed diagnosis and failure to diagnose) is a major concern for patients in all age groups. And patients (and parents) who have questions about their doctors’ diagnoses have every reason to seek professional help.

Understanding the Warning Signs of Misdiagnosis

How do you know if you, your child, or your aging parent has been misdiagnosed? Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. In many cases, it will take time for the signs of a misdiagnosis to become clear, and it is only after the patient’s condition worsens that concerns about an incorrect diagnosis begin to arise.

There are a number of commonly recognized warning signs for misdiagnosis. However, even here, not all of these warning signs will be relevant in all cases. In some cases, they may not be relevant at all. Additionally, due to the fact that virtually any medical condition can be misdiagnosed, there is not a single unified set of symptoms that tends to be emblematic of a diagnostic mistake.

With this in mind, the following are all potential warning signs of a medical misdiagnosis:

  • The symptoms for which you or your loved one sought treatment have not improved as expected.
  • Your (or your loved one’s) pain or other symptoms have worsened subsequent to seeking medical treatment.
  • The medication you or your loved one received does not seem to be working.
  • Your doctor based his or her diagnosis on a physical evaluation and did not order any tests or scans.
  • You or your loved one is experiencing new and different symptoms that seem unrelated to the medical condition for which treatment was initially sought (which may suggest treatment for a condition that you or your loved one does not have).

In 2019, researchers at Johns Hopkins published an article in the medical journal, Diagnosis, which concluded that misdiagnosis is particularly common for three types of medical conditions. The researchers referred to these conditions at the “Big Three.” While, again, virtually all types of medical conditions have the potential to be misdiagnosed, the article indicates that the following are at particularly high risk for misdiagnosis:

  • Vascular events (including strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs))
  • Infections
  • Cancers

Other medical conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed include:

  • Autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis
  • Degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Fibromyalgia and other forms of arthritis
  • Lyme disease
  • Bone fractures

What Should You Do If You Have Concerns about Medical Malpractice in Connecticut?

So, what does all of this mean for you? What should you do if you live in Connecticut and you are concerned that you or a loved one may have been misdiagnosed?

First, to be absolutely clear, the statistics mean very little when it comes to your own personal circumstances. If you do not see your (or your loved one’s) condition listed above, and if none of the warning signs we discussed apply to you, this does not mean that your concerns are invalid. Misdiagnoses can take many different forms and can have many different effects, and you should absolutely seek help if you have any concerns about a possible misdiagnosis.

Second, if you have concerns about a possible misdiagnosis, there are some steps that you should try to take promptly. These steps are important for protecting your (or your loved one’s) health and for protecting your family’s legal rights:

1. Get a Second Opinion

If you believe that you or a loved one may have been diagnosed, the first thing you should do is seek a second opinion. Let the doctor know why you are there, and explain your (or your loved one’s) original and current symptoms with as much detail as possible. Feel free to ask any questions you have, and be sure to undergo (or have your loved one undergo) all tests and scans the doctor recommends.

2. Take Notes

Take notes on everything that comes to mind about your (or your loved one’s) medical condition and medical care. When was the first doctor’s visit? What symptoms triggered that visit? In hindsight, does anything from the visit stand out as unusual? What treatment and medications were prescribed? When and why did you first begin to have concerns about a possible misdiagnosis? Write down as many details as you can remember so that you don’t have to try to recall them later on.

3. Collect Your Medical Records

In addition to taking notes, try to collect all of the relevant medical records that you have. This includes everything from appointment confirmations and reminders to copies of test results and scans. Be sure to keep all prescription bottles (or at least take photos of the labels), keep receipts and statements of benefits (SOBs) if you have them, and review your checking account or credit card statement to see when and to whom relevant payments were made.

4. Avoid Going Back to Your Original Doctor

At this point, you should avoid going back to your original doctor. If you have any follow-up appointments scheduled, you should see another doctor instead. If you have a claim for medical malpractice as a result of a misdiagnosis, you will need to see someone else for your (or your loved one’s) medical care.

5. Speak with a Malpractice Attorney

Whether you are fairly confident that you or a family member has been misdiagnosed or you simply have questions about the quality of the medical care you, your child, or your aging parent received in Connecticut, you should speak with a malpractice attorney promptly. An attorney who is experienced in handling medical malpractice claims will be able to assess the circumstances of your case and determine if you may be entitled to financial compensation. At Berkowitz Hanna, we can also refer you to a local specialist who has experience providing second opinions following potential misdiagnoses, and we can work with your new doctors to prove your claim for damages.

Contact the Malpractice Attorneys at Berkowitz Hanna

Do you have reason to suspect an incorrect, delayed, or missed diagnosis? Are you concerned that you or a loved one may have been misdiagnosed by a doctor? If so, we encourage you to get in touch. For a free, no-obligation consultation about your legal rights, please call us or request an appointment online now. You pay nothing unless we win.