Diagnostic Errors Are Still a Leading Cause of Disability and Death

Diagnostic Errors Are Still a Leading Cause of Disability and DeathIn 2016, Johns Hopkins published a bombshell study that claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was not classifying fatal medical errors correctly, and that medical mistakes were the cause of about 250,000 deaths per year. For the past eight years, we’ve been reading studies and articles that said Johns Hopkins got it wrong, and that medical mistakes weren’t nearly that deadly – or that they were actually causing far more deaths.

What are the most common diagnostic errors?

A recent study published by BMJ that estimated nearly 800,000 Americans die or face permanent disability annually due to diagnostic errors. The study identified 15 different conditions which accounted for nearly half of all diagnostic errors:

  1. Stroke
  2. Venous thromboembolism
  3. Arterial thromboembolism
  4. Aortic aneurysm/dissection
  5. Myocardial infarction
  6. Sepsis
  7. Pneumonia
  8. Meningitis/encephalitis
  9. Spinal abscess
  10. Endocarditis
  11. Lung cancer
  12. Breast cancer
  13. Colorectal cancer
  14. Melanoma
  15. Prostate cancer

These conditions are serious, and misdiagnosing them or allowing them to go undiagnosed can lead to serious health problems and even death.

What are diagnostic errors?

Erik Topol, American cardiologist, scientist, and author, describes diagnostic errors as “inaccurate assessments of a patient’s root cause of illness, such as missing a heart attack or infection or assigning the wrong diagnosis of pneumonia when the correct one is pulmonary embolism.”

According to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, there are three categories of diagnostic errors:

  • A delayed diagnosis refers to a case where the diagnosis should have been made earlier. Delayed diagnosis of cancer is by far the leading entity in this category. A major problem in this regard is that there are very few good guidelines on making a timely diagnosis, and many illnesses aren’t suspected until symptoms persist, or worsen.
  • A wrong diagnosis occurs, for example, if a patient truly having a heart attack is told their pain is from acid indigestion. The original diagnosis is found to be incorrect because the true cause is discovered later.
  • A missed diagnosis refers to a patient whose medical complaints are never explained. Many patients with chronic fatigue, or chronic pain fall into this category, as well as patients with more specific complaints that are never accurately diagnosed.

When there are so many people with conditions going undiagnosed, or being diagnosed as a different condition altogether, the question becomes why?

Why do diagnostic errors occur?

There are several causes for diagnostic errors, stemming from both individual and systemic influences. Physicians, being vulnerable to cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and anchoring bias, might prematurely settle on a diagnosis or neglect alternative considerations. Because clinic visits are inherently brief, diagnoses are made rapidly without as much consideration, which can lead to mistakes and oversights. With over 10,000 known diseases determining the correct diagnoses especially during short clinic visits means a greater risk of misdiagnosis.

The cause of many diagnostic errors not only can lie with the individual physician, but also with the greater healthcare system. Due to the complicated, often maze-like structuring of the healthcare system, there are often breakdowns in communication, leading to mistakes.

Other causes of diagnostic errors include insufficient follow-up on diagnostic tests, incomplete patient information, and excessive reliance on technology without considering all the relevant information about a patient’s condition and medical history.

Can a Mississippi medical malpractice lawyer help if I was misdiagnosed?

Before an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you file a lawsuit, it needs to be determined whether or not the diagnostic error qualifies as medical malpractice. We can look at your situation, and determine whether or not you have a case against your physician or team by looking at a few key factors.

Factors that determine whether or not your diagnostic error is considered medical malpractice include:

  • Standard of care. Once you become your doctor’s patient, then the physician has a legal obligation to fulfill their duties to the best of their ability.
  • If your condition was misdiagnosed or otherwise overlooked due to negligence by your care team, then that is a case for medical malpractice.
  • Injuries. If you were injured due to the negligent diagnostic error made by the medical professional, then it is a case of medical malpractice.

At Merkel & Cocke, P.A., our team of Mississippi medical malpractice attorneys collaborates with seasoned medical experts who possess a deep understanding of the causes of medical malpractice. We know that doctors, surgeons, nurses, or other healthcare professionals can make errors during diagnosis or treatment that cause harm. When this happens, we strive to secure compensation for your medical expenses, covering corrective surgeries and treatments. Additionally, we advocate for reimbursement of lost income and seek compensation for the pain and suffering you have endured.

While we may pursue settlements in medical malpractice cases where that’s the best option for the client, we are fully prepared to take your case to trial if the insurance companies representing the defendants prove uncooperative. To discuss your case with an experienced Mississippi medical malpractice lawyer, please call us at our office or fill out our contact form for a free consultation. We operate on a contingency fee basis and represent accident victims in Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, Oxford, and the entire Gulf Coast of Mississippi.