Errors in Diagnosis

We depend on our physicians to accurately diagnose our ailments. Thankfully, they usually do. However, errors in diagnosis occur more often than you would think. An exact rate isn’t available because medical researchers have performed few long-term studies on misdiagnosis. Physicians don’t publicize their errors and neither do the hospitals where they work. One recent study by HealthGrades concluded that 155 out of every 1,000 patients were incorrectly diagnosed.

The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) conducted a telephone survey of patients in 1997 that asked if they had been the victim of a medical error or a misdiagnosis. More than 40 percent of those who responded said they were involved in some type of mistake. Some 40 percent said that they had received a misdiagnosis during their treatment. Misdiagnosis was the main factor in a medical error for nearly 8 percent. Inadequate diagnosis was to blame for another 9 percent of the reported errors. Judging by that study, misdiagnosis occurs between 10 and 42 percent of the time, which cannot be considered conclusive.

Misdiagnosis in the ER and Intensive Care Unit

Studies on misdiagnosis in the ICU or ER have determined that between 20 and 40 percent of the patients experienced misdiagnosis. These areas are hectic, and the patients can be experiencing life-threatening issues that rely on speedy diagnosis and treatment, so it makes sense that their rate would be higher than in a physician’s office.

Most malpractice cases are filed for delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. The most common maladies that are misdiagnosed are appendicitis, myocardial infarction, colon cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer. Cancer would usually be discovered during a visit to a primary care physician. Myocardial infarction and appendicitis would be diagnosed during a visit to the ER. Strokes, meningitis and pulmonary embolism are other issues that are usually encountered in the ER.

Misdiagnosis is most likely to occur when a person has non-typical symptoms for their age group, such as a teenager having a heart attack. Children don’t usually suffer appendicitis, which could explain why somewhere around 40 percent of patients under the age of 12 who present with that malady are misdiagnosed. Fully 100 percent of infants with appendicitis are misdiagnosed because it is so rare.

Misdiagnosis and Human Error

Physicians can and do misread pathology tests, such as mistaking malignant tumors for benign tumors. This type of misdiagnosis gives the tumor more opportunity to grow and spread, which could lead to harsher treatment or more invasive surgery later. Misdiagnosing a benign tumor as malignant could start a series of unnecessary treatments. Johns Hopkins Hospital performed a study that declared 1.4 percent of pathology slides had been misread. Errors in diagnosing prostate cancer occurred 6 times out of 535 cases. The only way to accurately identify this type of misdiagnosis is through an autopsy, but autopsies are infrequently performed these days.

Holding Doctors Accountable

Doctors need to be held responsible for any sort of delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. We depend on them to be correct in their diagnoses, and when they aren’t, their patients suffer. If you’ve suffered due to any kind of inaccurate diagnosis, call us to arrange a meeting. We’ll let you know how you should proceed. We don’t take misdiagnosis lightly, and neither should you. We’ll fight to get you the compensation you deserve.