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Central Iowa residents should know that a majority of medical malpractice claims arise because of a diagnostic error, usually misdiagnosis. This was the conclusion of a study published in the journal Diagnosis in July 2019. In particular, there were three types of conditions that were behind most of the errors: cancers, vascular events and infections.

Of the 55,000 or so malpractice claims that researchers analyzed, nearly 12,000 were linked to a misdiagnosis. These claims were filed between 2006 and 2015, and half of them were aimed against primary care physicians, including family physicians and pediatricians. It turns out that 74% of these misdiagnosis claims were linked to one of the three conditions mentioned above. The breakdown was 38% cancer, 23% vascular events and 13% infections.

The most commonly misdiagnosed cancers were lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. Among vascular events, they included stroke, myocardial infarction and aortic aneurysms. Sepsis, meningitis, encephalitis and endocarditis were the most frequently reported conditions related to infection.

Around 85% of the misdiagnoses were the result of failures in clinical judgment. In primary care, the misdiagnosis of lung cancer was especially prominent while emergency departments would frequently miss stroke and hospitals would misdiagnose sepsis. Researchers conclude that to focus on reducing these three mistakes will greatly reduce cases of patient injury and death.

When the failure to diagnose a condition leads to patient injuries, victims may be able to file a malpractice claim. For it to be valid, victims must prove several things. First, the negligence and its link to the injuries must be established. Then, victims must show that there was a preexisting doctor-patient relationship and that the patient followed all the doctor’s instructions. The gathering of evidence and the negotiating for a settlement may be best left to a lawyer.