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Study Shows Most Common Medical Mistake is Misdiagnosis

Written by Berkowitz

Which medical errors lead to the most malpractice lawsuits? If you were to name some of the medical errors thought to be most common, such as surgical mistakes, overdoses or blunders in the delivery room, you would be wrong, according to Nicholas Bakalar writing about a BMJ study for The New York Times.

BMJ Study Results

Misdiagnoses are the basis for most lawsuits against doctors, according to the study.

A group of researchers, who published their study online in BMJ Quality and Safety, looked at actions by state licensing authorities against health care practitioners. They discovered that 28.6 percent of malpractice awards go to pay for mistaken diagnoses. The second most common mistakes were made in treating patients and the third were surgical errors.

Statistics for the study were taken from the National Practitioner Data Bank. They collected data from records of state licensing authorities that acted against health care providers.

The combined mistakes relating to obstetrics, medication, monitoring and anesthesia accounted for only 20 percent of malpractice compensation, according to the article.

Between 1986 and 2010, the study’s authors found diagnostic errors were responsible for 100,000 payments for lawsuits. Mistakes in diagnosis accounted for 33.8 percent of disabilities and nearly 40 percent of deaths.

“This is a major health problem,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. David E. Newman-Toker, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins. Physicians, hospitals and insurers all need to participate in solving the problem he said.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “You can’t get the treatment right if you don’t get the diagnosis right.”

The Consequences of Misdiagnosis

Each type of illness presents its own set of opportunities for misdiagnosis. The consequences of misdiagnosing cancer, for example, can be lethal. Whether the cancer is missed altogether, or the diagnosis is delayed, the chance for prompt and appropriate treatment may be lost. Death can be the result. Misreading an x-ray or other radiologic test also can have drastic consequences, including death.

Misdiagnosis can be failing to diagnose a condition, waiting too long to make a diagnosis, or mistaking one illness for another.  Many diseases present common symptoms. It is up to the physician and his or her team of health care specialists to correctly diagnose and treat the individual’s particular condition. Failing to do so can be drastic or lethal and is the basis for many lawsuits against healthcare providers.

Contact An Attorney

As Connecticut medical malpractice lawyers, the attorneys at Berkowitz and Hanna LLC represent individuals and families affected by medical mistakes such as misdiagnosis. To speak with a qualified medical malpractice attorney about your circumstances, contact us today.