Study: Medical Diagnostic Errors Affect 12 Million Adults Annually

Most studies pertaining to medical errors have in the past focused on those that occur in hospitals. That would include things like surgical mistakes, medication blunders or failure to properly clean, resulting in preventable infections.
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However what is apparently an even bigger problem, according to a new study, is the problem of diagnostic errors, which frequently occur in doctor’s offices, in laboratories or in outpatient centers.

The new report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of American Sciences, indicates that most Americans who seek medical intervention, will receive a wrong or late diagnosis at least once in the course of their lives. In fact, this type of medical error is much more common than surgery mistakes or medication errors, yet it’s been largely ignored by the medical community.

What we have always known is that in some of these cases, the end result can be fatal or end in severe, lifelong injuries or illnesses. Where those affected can show the doctor or health care provider’s actions or inaction deviated from the accepted standard of care, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be filed.

Although the report’s authors say it’s impossible to know exactly how many diagnostic mistakes take place, the conservative estimate is 12 million adults every year, or about 5 percent of all those who seek care, will be the subject of a diagnostic error.

But even given the pervasiveness of this problem and the severity of risk to patients, it was and will likely continue to be unappreciated. That’s because physicians are not often given feedback as to when they have made a diagnostic error – or had a close call – unless there is a medical malpractice case. And many experts agree diagnosis is one of the most complex aspects of health care because it involves:

  • Clinicians
  • Patients
  • Thousands of lab tests
  • More than 10,000 potential diagnoses

Although the stereotype tends to be that doctors make the majority of diagnostic errors, the truth of the matter is there are often several players who have a role in the process. In fact, one of the key issues identified by the study authors was a lack of communication and collaboration among doctors, patients, families and other health care providers. Not enough feedback of close calls was another. So if a doctor misses a diagnosis and another figures it out in time to save the patient from serious consequences, the first doctor usually never finds out.

Researchers called on health care facilities to address this problem by initiating systemic processes that could help red flag diagnoses errors and close calls, and then adopt a culture that is non-punitive to help doctors learn from those mistakes.

Patients, although not responsible for their own diagnosis, can help improve their chances of an accurate determination by:

  • Offering the doctor clear, accurate and complete information regarding the illness.
  • Note any past treatments and/or side effects.
  • Keep records of tests, hospital admissions and referrals.
  • Keep accurate medication lists.

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

Additional Resources:
Most Americans will get a wrong or late diagnosis at least once in their lives, Sept. 22, 2015, By Lena Sun, The Washington Post

More Blog Entries:
Diversicare Leasing Corp. v. Hubbard – Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements, Oct. 20, 2015, Rock Hill Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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