Failure to Diagnose: Your Biggest Worry

Sick Child A recent article posted on, titled, “Failure to diagnose is top reason for suing doctors,” should give many physicians pause. Typically, when one thinks of medical malpractice and reasons for being sued, one usually conjures up visions of major medical errors and the accidental infliction of harm upon a patient. But, this is not the case according to a new large-scale, multi-country study.

The study looked at data from the United States, Australia, France and Canada and it revealed that a failure to diagnose related to 26-63% of all medical malpractice claims. In adults, the most frequently missed diagnoses were heart attacks and cancer –the most common kinds of missed cancers included melanoma, breast, lung and colon cancer. In children, the most common missed diagnosis was meningitis. And, the most common outcome in all claims was death. (The second most common type of malpractice claim pertained to medication errors.)

However, as always with these types of studies, it is important to note that claims do not necessarily translate to actual wrong-doing or a guilty verdict. And, conversely, not all patients who experience adverse events file medical malpractice claims. So, while it is good to know why patients sue, it does not necessarily accurately reflect the state of actual medical malpractice.

But, that said, there are still lessons to be learned from the data. For example, realizing that women experiencing heart-attacks are frequently misdiagnosed can lead to greater awareness among physicians and provide hospitals with an educational opportunity which could lead to better patient care.

The study originally appeared in the July 18 issue of the journal BMJ Open.

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