Misdiagnosis is the Leading Cause of Medical Malpractice Claims and May Contribute to Up to 40,000 Annual Hospital Deaths, According to Studies
Misdiagnosis is the leading cause of payouts in medical malpractice claims, according to a recent study. It may also be the cause of, or a substantial factor in, more than 40,000 deaths in hospitals nationwide every year. A misdiagnosis may occur when a doctor or other medical professional makes an incomplete or inaccurate diagnosis, or fails to diagnose a critical medical condition entirely. A plaintiff claiming medical malpractice must prove that a misdiagnosis breached a standard of medical care. Unfortunately, identifying a misdiagnosis as the cause of a patient’s injury can be difficult, since the actual harm may occur long after the incomplete or inadequate diagnosis.
From 1986 to 2010, insurance payouts for medical malpractice claims alleging “diagnostic errors” totaled almost $39 billion, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins. Researchers reviewed over 350,000 claims from that time period, and found that thirty-five percent of them involved alleged misdiagnoses. As many as 160,000 claims every year may involve preventable death or permanent injury resulting from a misdiagnosis.
Diagnostic errors can occur at almost any stage of a patient’s treatment. In emergency situations, a misdiagnosis can be quickly fatal, such as with a failure to diagnose an aneurysm or certain types of meningitis. Most cases of misdiagnosis do not result in immediate harm, but could lead to a patient receiving unnecessary procedures or the wrong medication. The study’s authors recommend that patients, whenever possible, communicate with their doctors, including asking directly if there are any possible alternatives to the doctor’s diagnosis, and asking how the doctor can be certain of a specific diagnosis.
Another study from Johns Hopkins, published in 2012, found that misdiagnosis may cause or contribute to the deaths of up to 40,500 adult intensive care unit (ICU) patients every year. It also found that fatal diagnostic errors occurred twice as often with adult ICU patients, as compared to all adult hospital patients, possibly because ICU patients generally cannot communicate with doctors. Among the misdiagnoses identified by the study, only about one-third were found to “directly contribute” to patient deaths, but the rest cause harm through injuries, additional medical expenses, and reduced quality of life.
The 2012 study reviewed autopsy reports for 5,683 ICU patients, and categorized cases in four groups: vascular misdiagnoses, which included “vessel blockages,” heart attack, stroke, and bleeding; infections; organ malfunction and failure; and “cancer/other.” Since autopsies are not performed for every death in the ICU, researchers had to extrapolate the rate at which misdiagnoses occur, taking into account that fact that autopsies are more likely when doctors are less certain of their diagnosis.
For over twenty years, Wais, Vogelstein, Forman, Koch & Norman’s medical malpractice attorneys have fought for the rights of Maryland patients and their families, helping them recover damages for injuries and other losses caused by the negligence of doctors and other medical professionals. We have recovered millions of dollars in damages for our clients through verdicts and settlements. We are available 24/7 and can visit you in your home or at the hospital. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online, at (410) 567-0800.