Medical malpractice is often framed as a dramatic error during a high-pressure situation, such as a complicated surgery. In reality, these costly mistakes may be much quieter, and often occur before a patient reaches the operating room.
In fact, of all malpractice cases that resulted in serious harm, the most common culprit is a diagnostic error. That is, a delayed or incorrect diagnosis.
Study: 34% of high-harm claims were due to misdiagnosis
We know medical malpractice can cause serious harm to a patient. When this negligence results in permanent disability or death, it is sometimes described as “high-harm.” Diagnostics errors, according to a 2019 study, are a leading cause of high-harm medical malpractice claims.
Researchers reviewed more than 55,000 medical malpractice allegations to try to identify patterns. They found that 34% of medical malpractice cases that resulted in permanent disability or death were caused by an inaccurate or delayed diagnosis. This was the leading cause of these high-harm incidents.
These diagnostic errors most commonly involved three types of medical conditions: cancer, vascular (blood vessel) events and infection.
The impact of misdiagnosis
Receiving the wrong diagnosis – or getting the correct diagnosis, but later than is reasonable – can have devastating consequences.
“It is not just inconvenient to have a wrong or delayed diagnosis,” said one of the study’s lead authors. “For many patients, misdiagnosis causes severe harm and expense, and in the worst cases, death.”
This is because misdiagnosis can lead to:
- A patient receiving the wrong medicine
- The patient undergoing an unnecessary procedure
- The actual condition progressing further
- A victim continuing to suffer pain while missing out on normal aspects of life
It is not fair for a patient to suffer because of a medical professional’s negligence. Doctors have a responsibility to live up to the standard of care and avoid injuring someone who comes to see them. When they fail to do so, it is the patient who might pay a tragic price.