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Study: Diagnostic Errors Responsible for One-Third of Medical Malpractice Claims

There are many types of negligence that can lead to a medical malpractice claim. In some cases a surgeon makes a critical error while performing a procedure. Other times a patient is prescribed the incorrect type or dosage of medication. But according to at least one medical malpractice insurer, the “number-one common root cause” of most negligence claims are diagnostic-related errors.

Cancer the Most Common Misdiagnosis

Boston-based medical professional liability insurer Coversys reviewed over 10,000 malpractice claims resolved between 2013 and 2017. Coversys found that one-third of these claims–33 percent–were the result of a diagnostic error. The next-most common causes were, in order, surgical and procedural mistakes (24 percent), medical management (14 percent), medication-related errors (9 percent), problems with the patient’s environment or safety (4 percent), obstetrics-related problems (4 percent), patient monitoring errors (3 percent), and finally anesthesia-related mistakes (3 percent).
Not surprisingly, diagnostic-related errors also took up the largest share of damages paid to malpractice victims. Coversys said diagnostic mistakes represented 47 percent of the total “indemnity paid” over the five-year period it reviewed. This was more than double the amount paid in the next-largest category, which was surgical and procedural errors (18 percent of indemnity paid).
Breaking down the specific numbers for diagnostic errors, Coversys found that 53 percent of claims reflected “risk management issues involving poor clinical decision-making.” Similarly, 54 percent of claims were “high-severity cases” and that 36 percent of these diagnostic errors “result[ed] in death.”
Coversys noted that “[v]ulnerabilities in the diagnostic process can begin with the first patient and continue all the way through to the follow-up after evaluation, testing, and treatment.” Indeed, 33 percent of the claims related to diagnostic error arose from mistakes made during the initial “evaluation of the patient.” And in 22 percent of cases there were either errors made in ordering lab tests and/or interpreting the results of those tests. Other categories of diagnostic errors identified by Coversys included the performance of a given test, receipt and transmittal of the test results, and improper referral of a patient for follow-up treatment.
And while surgical errors often grab the most attention and headlines, in fact Coversys said only 9 percent of diagnosis-related malpractice claims were made against surgeons. General medicine was the specialty most likely to face such claims, representing 24 percent of all cases reviewed, followed by the hospitals themselves (19 percent), and radiologists (14 percent).
Finally, as you might expect the most common condition involved in diagnosis errors was cancer (27 percent), followed by infections (13 percent), and cardiovascular problems (8 percent).

Contact the Cleveland Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Tittle & Perlmuter Today

Everyone makes mistakes. But when doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers misdiagnose a patient it can have a serious–and potentially catastrophic–impact on them and their families. This is why it is necessary to hold providers accountable. If you have been harmed by a diagnostic error and need advice from an experienced Cleveland medical malpractice attorney, call Tittle & Perlmuter today at (216) 308-1522.

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