Diagnostic Errors in Clinical Settings

Morbidity and Mortality Resulting from Diagnostic Errors in Clinical Settings

Diagnostic errors in healthcare remain the leading cause of death or severe harm due to medical malpractice in a variety of medical settings. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), a diagnostic error is the failure to establish an accurate and timely explanation of a patient’s health problem(s) or communicate that explanation to the patient. A report by the Institute of Medicine stated that most people are likely to experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime. A new study published by BMJ Quality & Safety reports that an estimated 371,000 people die every year due to misdiagnosis and about 424,000 people are permanently disabled.  Our friends at Mossing & Navarre, LLC emphasize the importance of seeking legal counsel in cases of diagnostic errors. Read on to delve deeper into the complexities and solutions highlighted below.

According to the study, there are about 795,000 serious misdiagnosis related harms which occur annually. The five most common conditions that are misdiagnosed and account for about half of the misdiagnoses and their related harm include stroke, sepsis, pneumonia, venous thromboembolism and lung cancer. These five diseases alone caused 300,000 or, 40% of the total amount of serious harms due to clinicians’ failure to identify these diseases. According to the study, the most common reason for misdiagnosis is due to cognitive error by the doctor. Factors which could contribute to a doctor’s poor diagnostic decision include potential bias, either circumstantial or systematic, or could also be because a patient’s symptoms are either not typical, or rather, are too common, and therefore not associated with a serious disease.  

The study suggests that in order to minimize misdiagnosis related harms and cognitive error, it is imperative for clinicians to improve the diagnosis of the five above-mentioned dangerous diseases. By addressing the harms associated with those five dangerous diseases and cutting them in half, about 150,000 cases which would result in permanent disability or death could be prevented. 

The most common diagnostic mistakes occur when a healthcare provider makes the wrong diagnosis, fails to diagnose a disease or condition, or makes a delayed diagnosis. Every year, approximately 800,000 Americans either die or suffer from permanent disability as a result of diagnostic errors. Diagnostic errors can occur as a result of misinterpreted test or lab results. Lab tests play a significant role in a patient’s healthcare because the results help guide diagnosis and treatment. Incomplete or inadequate patient evaluation is another cause which can contribute to errors in diagnosis. 

One way to improve diagnosis as to the five above-mentioned dangerous diseases referenced in the study, is for providers to make it a standard practice to consult with a colleague regarding a patient’s signs and symptoms before diagnosing a patient or otherwise dismissing them. Additionally, it is critical for patients to be active participants in their healthcare and have open communication with their healthcare providers about their symptoms and/or medical history in order to further reduce diagnostic errors. 

For many medical conditions, timely diagnosis and early intervention is critical. If you or a loved one has experienced significant harm or damages as a result of a missed, incorrect, or late diagnosis, it is imperative to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for immediate assistance.