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Three Diseases Account for The Majority of Harmful Diagnostic Errors

Misdiagnosis is something that is a source of fear for most health-care professionals. No doctor wants to make a mistake, and misdiagnosis of certain medical conditions can be catastrophic for the patient, and lead to medical malpractice issues for the doctor.

According to new research, misdiagnosis related harm is most commonly associated with three specific areas: vascular events, cancer, and infections.

David E. Newman-Toker MD, Ph.D., who serves as a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was one of the leads of the study, which was published in the Diagnosis journal.

According to the study, diagnostic errors in the ‘big three’ of cancers, vascular events, and infections account for around 75% of the serious harms that come from diagnostic errors. There are other medical errors which can cause serious harm, however, diagnostic errors account for just over one-third of all ‘serious harm’. Of the diagnostic errors which cause serious harm, 64% lead to either permanent disability or death. Diagnostic errors account for 28% of total payouts relating to medical malpractice claims, with the median payout being $766,000 for a claim relating to a highly severe case.

Not all diagnostic errors which lead to serious harm result in a malpractice claim. In fact, it is thought that malpractice claims account for just 1.5 percent of all medically negligent events, but overall the cost to society resulting from harmful diagnostic errors is in excess of $100 billion per year, according to a group of attorneys who help settle claims for victims.

Now that the researchers have some clear data on the long term impact of seriously harmful diagnostic errors, their next goal is to find ways to fix the problem. Newman-Toker believes that he has some ideas that can help to improve patient safety and diagnosis and advises doctors to stay focused on what the patient is saying in a diagnostic setting. The information provided by the patient is key to diagnostics, and it is important that doctors feel confident in their ability to do the best they can for their patients in a time-pressured setting.

The Council of Medical Specialty Societies noted that it is important to acknowledge that the issue is very complex and to avoid blaming clinicians for any errors. This is a complex process, and physicians need to be equipped with the resources that will allow them to make clear and correct diagnoses on a consistent basis. Helen Burstin, the societies executive VP, advised physicians to call specialists when they are unsure, to provide the best possible care for their patients.