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Study: Diagnostic errors are the largest malpractice issue

Medical malpractice cases have decreased overall in recent years, but one specific category has remained steady: diagnostic errors. That's according to a study just released by a malpractice insurer and service provider. These errors were behind more malpractice claims (accounting for a third of them) between 2013 and 2017 than any other issue.

According to the study, which looked at a sampling of 10,000-plus claims, the second-most common issue involved surgery or other procedures. Those accounted for nearly a quarter of the claims studied.

Among the claims over diagnostic errors, over half involved poor clinical decisions. More than a third (36 percent) of diagnostic error claims involved a patient who had died.

In looking at what caused the diagnostic errors, the researchers found that over half involved lab tests. This could mean not ordering the proper test, not performing it correctly or misinterpreting the results.

A third of the diagnostic errors were caused by doctors not properly evaluating the patient. This could include something as basic as not getting a family medical history.

Doctors aren't the only medical professionals who can be at fault for diagnostic errors. Some 14 percent of the claims involved radiologists. Radiologists are the ones who prepare reports with test results for doctors. However, even when the radiologist provides accurate information in a report, a doctor may miss that information because of the length or complicated nature of the report.

The study suggests that the most common reasons for misdiagnoses are heavy physician workloads and environments where medical professionals are working in isolation from each other. The report's author, who's an executive with the company responsible for it, recommends a team approach to diagnosis.

He says, "If there are several different people who are weighing in on the diagnosis, usually the right thing happens." He also notes that too often doctors won't admit that they aren't sure what's wrong with a patient. He says, "There needs to be an environment where doctors can be more open about uncertainties around diagnosis. People expect doctors to know everything, but sometimes they aren't certain."

Failing to diagnose a condition or misdiagnosing it can cause medical professionals to lose valuable treatment time. Treating the wrong condition can also cause additional health problems. If you or a loved one has suffered because of a diagnostic error, it's wise to find out whether you may have a viable medical malpractice case.

Source: Modern Healthcare, "Diagnostic errors are largest contributor to medical malpractice claims," Maria Castellucci, accessed April 18, 2018

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