Misdiagnoses due to medical malpractice puts thousands at risk

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A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine indicates that missed or incorrect diagnoses by primary care medical providers might be subjecting thousands of patients to risks of complications.  According to Dr. David Newman-Toker of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who co-authored a commentary on the new study, this type of medical malpractice by primary care physicians may result in more injuries and deaths than other medical errors.

“We have every reason to believe that diagnostic errors are a major, major public health problem,” Dr. Newman-Toker said. “You’re really talking about at least 150,000 people per year, deaths or disabilities that are resulting from this problem.”

In the study, researchers utilized electronic health records to follow 190 diagnostic errors made at a healthcare facility. In each of the cases of medical malpractice, the patient who was misdiagnosed was admitted to a hospital or returned to the office or emergency room within two weeks.

The study revealed a wide variety of conditions resulting in misdiagnoses. Pneumonia, cardiac failure, renal failure, and cancer each accounted for five to seven percent of conditions originally misdiagnosed.

The researchers determined that the majority of diagnostic errors could result in moderate to severe injury to the patient. Of the 190 misdiagnosed patients tracked in the study, 36 suffered serious permanent damage and 27 died.

One of the problems faced by doctors making accurate diagnoses is that many common symptoms like shortness of breath or stomach pain can be indicators of many conditions, some of which are serious. Dr. Hardeep Singh led the study at the Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence. Said Dr. Singh, “If you look at the types of chief complaints that these things occur with, they’re fairly common chief complaints. If somebody would come in with mild shortness of breath and a little bit of cough, people would think you might have bronchitis, you might have phlegm…and lo and behold they would come back two days later with heart failure.”

Dr. Singh’s research team found that most of the misdiagnoses could be traced back to medical malpractice during the office visit and the failure of the physician to obtain an accurate patient history, perform a complete exam or ordering the proper diagnostic tests.

Dr. Singh believes that reducing these errors might require changes in doctor training. Dr. Newman-Toker advised that patients be proactive in observing their doctor, asking direct questions and not having “blind obedience” in the doctor’s diagnosis.

For more information, contact the Ohio medical malpractice attorneys at Clark, Perdue & List.

Source: NBC News, “Doctor office misdiagnoses may be putting thousands at risk,” Genevra Pittma, February 26, 2013.