The majority of medical malpractice claims are missed diagnoses. For some patients, failure to diagnose a condition that has no long-lasting negative effect is often overlooked indefinitely. However, when a condition like cancer or a heart attack is not diagnosed in time, it can result in life threatening outcomes.
A recent study analyzed malpractice claims for primary care doctors in the U.S., England, Australia, France, and Canada. Missed diagnoses were the primary cause, accounting for up to 63% of total malpractice claims. Death was the most frequently listed “consequence” of a failure to diagnosis, and cancer and heart attacks were the most commonly conditions that were overlooked. Medication errors came in at a distant second, accounting for between six and 20% of malpractice claims.
Unfortunately, the fear of misdiagnosing patients has resulted in what doctors refer to as “defensive medicine.” This term refers to an increase in diagnostic testing, office visits, and unnecessary prescription medications that cost patients both financially and emotionally. In response to this systemic problem, top U.S. medical organizations have established a campaign known as Choosing Wisely that aims to encourage patients to question physicians’ excessive treatments and tests. With the rise of malpractice claims, doctors can’t afford to be wrong, but unnecessary tests and medications are not the answer.
In most cases, the vast majority of patients who visit their family doctor do not have a serious condition. However, when a patient faces the reality of cancer or a heart attack, it is often misdiagnosed because each condition is a challenge to catch quickly and accurately. In an interview with CBS News discussing medical professional responsibilities, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, Richard E. Anderson, said, “The most important responsibility that they have is not so much treating the common diseases, but pulling from that huge herd the relatively few patients with a serious disease.”
Anderson advises patients to be persistent and attentive. For example, a woman who visits the doctor after noticing a lump on her breast is told by her physician that the initial malignancy signs are not present. The doctor treats it as benign and suggests the patient keep an eye on it. Some women may take that advice to mean call back if it hasn’t gone away in two weeks, while others may wait two years to schedule a follow-up. If the lump was indeed cancer and it metastasizes in the person who waited two years for a follow-up, a medical malpractice claim may follow. When patients are more persistent and attentive, it greatly reduces the risk of misdiagnosis.
At Berkowitz and Hanna LLC, we understand how devastating a misdiagnosed illness can be. Life-threatening and life-altering illnesses are significantly less common than routine health problems, and overworked doctors are constantly seeing healthy patients who are convinced they have a serious health problem. Unfortunately, the large quantity of false symptoms makes it difficult for doctors to identify the true underlying cause. When a condition like cancer goes undiagnosed, it can cost the patient his or her life. Our skilled, dedicated team of medical malpractice attorneys has extensive experience with misdiagnosis cases, and we have an impressive record of obtaining compensation for our clients. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC for a free consultation about your case.