Medical Malpractice: Misdiagnosis Among the Primary Causes
Patients throughout California count on physicians and healthcare providers to correctly diagnose medical conditions. They generally visit physicians for routine physicals annually, which can include blood work, lab tests and cancer screenings. Patients may also seek help from medical professionals if they believe they have symptoms indicating a medical condition that requires treatment.
“Doctors and healthcare providers have a legal obligation to perform all of these services with reasonable competence in light of their professional training,” explained California injury lawyer James Ballidis. “When a doctor provides care inferior to that of a physician with the same background and experience, then a doctor can be considered liable for medical malpractice.”
Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore conducted a study to find more information about some of the most common types of medical malpractice occurring throughout the United States.
Researchers reviewed more than 350,000 medical malpractice claims filed over the past 25 years. Claims from 1986 to 2010 were analyzed in an effort to enhance patient safety and to determine what mistakes physicians were commonly making. In total, these claims had resulted in an estimated $38.8 billion in payouts to patients injured by the actions of physicians and care providers.
The study revealed that misdiagnosis of medical conditions was the leading cause of medical malpractice payouts in the United States. Misdiagnosis was defined for the context of the study to include wrong diagnosis, no diagnosis or a delayed diagnosis. Collectively, these diagnosis-related claims accounted for 35 percent of total payments in medical malpractice claims. Diagnostic errors were also the leading cause of claims associated with either permanent disability or death of the patient.
Based on the claims data, researchers estimated that as many as 160,000 cases of permanent damage or death may be caused by misdiagnosis each year. These deaths and disabilities could potentially have been prevented if the diagnostic error had not been made and if patients had been able to receive the proper medical treatment.
Researchers indicated that misdiagnosis is “too big of a problem to ignore.”
Consequences of Misdiagnosis
When a patient’s medical condition is not properly diagnosed, treatment may be delayed or not provided or the patient may be given the wrong therapy. This can lead to a reduction in survivability rates or to immediate death.
For example, a patient who has a brain aneurysm that is incorrectly diagnosed as a headache could die of the aneurysm within just a few hours. A patient who has cancer might have a cure rate above 90 percent if diagnosed when the cancer is in the early stages but the patient’s survival chances could fall below ten percent or even to zero if the cancer has grown and metastasized.
Even patients who are diagnosed with a disease they do not have could suffer as a result. Patients have had jaws, lungs and other body parts removed after being wrongly diagnosed with cancer, which in some cases has led to complications and death.
“The emotional harm associated with an incorrect terminal diagnosis alone can be devastating,” explained California injury lawyer James Ballidis. “Why is why, in some states, patients may be compensated for pain and suffering resulting from misdiagnosis.”
Last May, the VA was required to pay almost $60,000 to a man who had been incorrectly diagnosed with brain cancer and told he had just months to live. The compensation was paid out to make the man whole for the emotional distress he suffered as a result of believing that death from cancer was imminent.
Holding Care Providers Accountable
Misdiagnosis can occur for different reasons, from lab errors to doctors failing to listen to patients or order appropriate testing given the symptoms that a patient is experiencing.
When a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis occurs, the doctor or care provider can be responsible for compensating the victim for his or her losses. This compensation is available to a patient or to surviving family members of someone killed due to the medical error. To obtain the compensation, the plaintiff must prove that the doctor was unreasonably negligent by demonstrating that no qualified caregiver would have made the same error. The injured victim must also demonstrate that the doctor’s negligence was the direct cause of injury, illness or harm.
Delayed and misdiagnosis cases can sometimes be difficult to prove because it can be hard to quantify the harm caused by a physician’s error. Putting a price on the emotional stress of a misdiagnosis can also be challenging.
When a doctor delays treatment for a medical condition, an assessment of damages may become even more difficult. The physician could argue that the outcome for the patient would have been the same regardless of when the diagnosis was made and that the plaintiff thus suffered no actual losses despite the medical negligence. Expert testimony and clear proof that the doctor’s failure exacerbated medical problems or worsened survivability ratings is essential for a plaintiff to be fully compensated for this type of medical misdiagnosis.
“Patients throughout California need to understand their rights when it comes to a physician’s failure to provide competent care,” explained California injury lawyer James Ballidis.
The researchers who conducted the recent malpractice study bringing the misdiagnosis problem to light also recommend that patients be proactive about questioning a diagnosis made by a physician.
Researchers advise that patients can reduce the chances of a medical error by keeping return appointments to discuss abnormal test results; by providing an accurate medical history; by adhering to follow-up care plans and by asking questions. However, while patients can take these steps to protect themselves, ultimately the responsibility falls on the doctor to ensure that medical conditions and problems are diagnosed correctly and in a timely manner.
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