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Failure to Order Tests Leading Cause of Diagnostic Errors

diagnostic errors

According to a survey* of U.S. primary care and specialist physicians released in 2010, failure to order tests, report results and follow-up with abnormal test findings/order further testing is a leading cause of diagnostic errors in patient care. When a patient comes in to a doctor with symptoms, most healthcare providers ask the correct questions, complete a careful review of patient records and perform a thorough examination but they may still lack the information that they need to accurately diagnose without diagnostic testing. If appropriate diagnostic testing is not ordered and completed, a doctor may treat for the wrong condition or not provide any treatment at all.

Failure to order tests among most common causes of diagnostic errors

The most common time for diagnostic errors to occur is in the testing phase, where 44 percent of the errors occurred (failure to order, report and follow up on laboratory results).

Followed by:

  • Clinician assessment errors (failure to consider and overweighing competing diagnoses), 32 percent
  • Inadequate history taking, 10 percent
  • Incomplete physical examination, 10 percent
  • Referral or consultation errors and delays, three percent

Most common missed or delayed diagnoses:

  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Drug reactions or overdose
  • Lung cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Acute coronary syndrome (including heart attack)
  • Breast cancer
  • Stroke

The exact occurrence of diagnostic errors is not known but autopsy data from a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11552) indicates that the rate may be as high as 10 to 15 percent of cases.

Reasons for a failure to order tests:

  • A doctor who is seeing patients with symptoms/issues outside of their area of expertise may fail to refer the patient to an appropriate specialist who would order diagnostic tests.
  • A doctor may believe that he knows the diagnosis without ordering tests, based purely on the patient’s symptoms.
  • A doctor who has not kept up with advances/new recommendations in medicine may fail to order necessary tests.

If you or a loved one has sustained a serious personal injury directly related to a diagnostic error, it is imperative that you seek legal counsel and guidance from a law firm that has the skills, resources and experience to identify your legal options and fight for damages.

The Seattle personal injury attorneys at Morrow Kidman Tinker Macey-Cushman, PLLC have years of experience representing families harmed by medical malpractice, birth injuries and other personal injuries. We seek justice for patients who have been harmed by preventable medical errors including wrongful death, catastrophic injuries and traumatic brain injuries in Seattle and across Washington State. There are no fees or expenses to file a personal injury case as we only receive payment if we recover damages on your behalf. Do not delay; personal injury claims come with a statute of limitations, which means they must be filed within a certain time frame of the injury.

Call us now at 206-842-1000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our compassionate, experienced Seattle injury lawyers. We are ready to fight for you.

*Three hundred physicians from 22 hospitals reported a total of 583 cases of diagnostic error-the largest ever report on this subject. Of all the cases reported, 28 percent were rated as major, causing permanent disability, a near-life-threatening event or death. Fourty-one percent of these cases resulted in moderate adverse outcomes with short-term illness, a prolonged hospital stay, an invasive procedure or more intense care. Thirty-one percent of diagnostic errors were reported as minor or insignificant.