Diagnostic Errors Most Common Cause of Carolina Medical Malpractice Claims

When it comes to medical malpractice claims, our Spartanburg personal injury lawyers know there are many possible triggers.
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It could be a surgical mistake, an obstetric error, even an overdose.

But if you thought any of those were the most common reason for filing a medical malpractice claim, you’d be wrong.

In fact, nearly 30 percent of medical malpractice settlement payouts stem from diagnostic errors. That’s according to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which keeps track of action by state licensing officials against health care providers.

Behind diagnostic mistakes, errors made in treatment and surgery were the second and third most frequent claims. All other types of errors, including anesthesia, medication, monitoring and obstetric, accounted for about one-fifth of medical malpractice payouts.

These figures were recently published by BMJ Quality and Safety, which had discovered that between 1986 and 2010, there were approximately 100,000 medical malpractice payments made just for diagnostic errors. These incidents accounted for nearly 34 percent of disabilities and 40 percent of the deaths that eventually resulted in a medical malpractice payout.

The authors of the study note that this is a huge health problem, and that hospitals, physicians, nurses and insurers all have a responsibility to help address it. The problem is, few singular entities view it as their problem.

A diagnostic error would be one in which your true diagnosis was somehow delayed or missed.

Part of the reason these types of errors don’t get nearly enough attention is that they are so difficult to track and measure. Individuals who may be victims may not even realize it, at least not on the same scale as someone with a surgical error. The latter would be very obvious, very definitive. A diagnostic error, meanwhile, might not be as evident.

Researchers believe that in the last 25 years, somewhere between 100,000 and 160,000 people have been negatively affected by diagnostic errors. They may have suffered anything from minor injuries to death as a result.

The cost of this over the course of 25 years, adjusted for inflation, was nearly $40 billion, with a mean per-claim payout of about $390,000 each. Per-claim payouts were higher depending on the severity of the injury. For example, someone who suffered something like brain damage or anything that resulted in a lifelong care requirement on average won settlements of about $810,000, while those whose injuries were deemed significant received about $270,000 each.

Some suggested efforts to help reduce diagnostic errors include technology-based aids and electronic alerts. One example is a program that generates a list of possible diagnoses based on the list of patient symptoms. It wouldn’t mean the condition was necessarily on that list, but it would be a guide of potential options for doctors to explore.

Previous studies have suggested this sort of thing may help produce tangible results. One study conducted in the early 1990s found that when doctors used standardized form to diagnose abdominal pain, there was a 9 percent reduction in diagnostic errors with regard to appendicitis.

Contact our Spartanburg personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Why Doctors Are Sued, April 29, 2013, By Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times

More Blog Entries:
Rock Hill Injury Lawyers Warn of Rising Plastic Surgery Risks, Feb. 24, 2013, Spartanburg Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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