Diagnostic Errors That Lead to Patient Harm

diagnostic errors

Diagnosis is one of the most important tasks performed by primary care physicians. Ideally, when someone experiences worrying symptoms, they visit their primary care physician who listens to their concerns, asks follow-up questions, assesses their symptoms, orders appropriate follow-up tests, and correctly diagnoses the disease, infection, or illness in a timely manner. This process may take several visits. While this scenario plays out successfully the vast majority of the time, there are many things that can go wrong in the process. Each year, approximately 100,000 people in the United States die or become permanently disabled because of either a missed or delayed diagnosis. Diagnostic errors that lead to patient harm are a serious problem in the United States.

If you or a loved one was injured as a result of a failure to diagnose or other diagnostic error, seek the help of an experienced local medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Personal injury lawyers are best qualified to discuss your legal rights and help fight for justice on your behalf.

Diagnostic errors defined

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine defines diagnostic error as the failure to either establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or to communicate that explanation to the patient.

A diagnostic error may look like:

  • Failure to diagnose (missed diagnosis)
  • Inappropriately delayed diagnosis
  • Misdiagnosis (wrong diagnosis)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that: “…diagnostic errors were the most common, most catastrophic and most costly of medical mistakes.” There are many pieces involved in a successful medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice attorney will analyze the details that led up to your injury, gather evidence, and may bring in expert witnesses to help prove your claim.

Three most commonly misdiagnosed health issues

When it comes to misdiagnosed health issues, researchers found that the most serious cases could be traced back to three main medical conditions:

  1. Cancers (37%)
  2. Vascular events (22%)
  3. Infections (13%)

When combined, these ailments accounted for 75% of all misdiagnosis-related injuries in the study. By sharing this information, the researchers say they hope that the medical community can find solutions to reduce diagnostic errors over the next decade.

Breaking down the data, the research team identified 15 health conditions that accounted for about 50% of the most severe misdiagnosis-related harms.

The top cancer is lung cancer followed by breast, colorectal, prostate, and skin cancers.

The top type of vascular event is stroke followed by heart attack, venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the legs and lungs), aortic aneurysm and dissection (a rupture of the aorta), and arterial thromboembolism (a blockage of the blood supply to internal organs).

The top type of infection is sepsis followed by meningitis and encephalitis, spinal infection, pneumonia, and endocarditis (a heart infection).

Misdiagnosed cancer was most likely to happen in an outpatient setting such as a primary care office, while infection and vascular-related diagnostic errors were most likely to happen in emergency departments.

Why does misdiagnosis occur?

The most common reasons for misdiagnosed health conditions are “clinical judgment failures” or “common cognitive errors”, including:

  • Failing to order a diagnostic test
  • Failing to refer for a consultation with a specialist
  • Misinterpreting diagnostic test results
  • Failing to ask appropriate follow-up questions to get relevant information from the patient
  • Failing to properly evaluate relevant symptoms or test results
  • Failing to recognize the significance of symptoms or data

The Seattle Personal Injury Attorneys You Want on Your Side

The personal injury attorneys at Tinker Law Firm have been winning birth injury, medical malpractice, and personal injury cases for individuals and their loved ones in Seattle and across Washington State since 1974. We seek justice for injury victims who have been harmed by preventable medical errors, and the negligent or abusive actions of another. Our clients pay no fees or expenses to file a personal injury claim; our firm advances out-of-pocket expenses and is only reimbursed when we recover a settlement on your behalf. Do not delay; personal injury claims in Washington State have a statute of limitations, which means they must be filed within a certain time from the date of the injury.

Call us now at 206-842-1000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled and experienced injury attorneys.