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Study Links Most Med Mal Deaths to Inaccurate Diagnosis

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on January 4, 2020

According to a recent study, slightly more than one out of three medical malpractices cases resulting in permanent disability or death are linked to inaccurate or delayed diagnosis, as reported by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Approximately 75% of these cases can be traced to diagnostic errors in only three medical conditions – cancer, vascular events, and infections.

How the Study Was Conducted

Researchers from John Hopkins School of Medicine analyzed more than 55,000 claims in an insurance database to identify the conditions or diseases for which the most serious harm related to misdiagnosis occurred. Claims for diagnostic errors isolated from the database accounted for 28.7% of all U.S. medical malpractice claims. Diseases were categorized into clinically sensible groupings. Researchers specifically analyzed claims for the “Big Three” (cancer, vascular events, and infections), which were determined by previous research to account for most morbidity and mortality attributable to diagnostic errors.

What Researchers Found

Diagnostic errors that cause caused severe harm (serious injury, permanent disability, or death) were scored from 6 to 9 on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Severity of Injury Scale. Researchers also reviewed underlying disease states in malpractice claims based on diagnostic error to identify patterns of misdiagnosis. They found that the “Big Three” accounted for 74.1% of the most serious diagnostic errors in the following proportions:

  • 8% — Cancer
  • 8% — Vascular events
  • 5% — Infection

The most frequently found diseases in these three categories, respectively, were lung cancer, stroke, and sepsis. Overall, these serious cases of diagnostic error resulted in $1.8 billion in medical malpractice payouts during a period of ten years. This study confirmed that misdiagnosis is the most common and catastrophic type of medical error resulting in medical malpractice claims.

What Kind of Harm Can Misdiagnosis Cause?

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can harm a patient in several different ways, including:

  • Exposing the patient to more aggressive treatment than would have been needed if the condition had been diagnosed earlier
  • Performing unnecessary surgical procedures that may result in scarring or disfigurement
  • Needlessly exposing the patient to harmful courses of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation
  • Increased likelihood of complications or death

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