The failure to diagnose or to timely diagnose a medical condition constitutes a significant portion of medical malpractice claims. Historically, there has not been a comprehensive study of the frequency of diagnostic errors and the consequences of these failures to diagnose. But, a recent report titled Improving Diagnosis in Health Care by the Institute of Medicine provides a welcome and exhaustive analysis of this issue.
The 300-plus page report contains a wealth of information about the rate of diagnostic errors, the circumstances in which they occur, and the consequences of these errors. Perhaps, the most troubling and sobering statement in the report is “that most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.” The report further concluded that:
- Postmortem examination research spanning decades has shown that diagnostic errors contribute to approximately 10 percent of patient deaths.
- Medical record reviews suggest that diagnostic errors account for 6 to 17 percent of hospital adverse events.
- Diagnostic errors are the leading type of paid medical malpractice claims, are almost twice as likely to have resulted in the patient’s death compared to other claims, and represent the highest proportion of total payments.
The report calls for taking a series of actions to reduce the likelihood of diagnostic errors and to more effectively address these errors when they occur. Chief among the study’s remedies is to improve communication among medical professionals, patients and the patient’s families to ensure the timely disclosure of pertinent information. “Involving patients and their families in efforts to improve diagnosis is also critical, because they have unique insights into the diagnostic process and the occurrence of diagnostic errors.” The report contains a host of other recommendations, including the development of a “reporting environment and medical liability system that facilitates improved diagnosis through learning from diagnostic errors and near misses.”
This report provides a powerful injection into the continued discussion about how best to prevent medical errors and to remedy them. The report provides a thundering call to action for everyone involved in the provision of medical care: “Improving the diagnostic process is not only possible, but it also represents a moral, professional, and public health imperative. Achieving that goal will require a significant re-envisioning of the diagnostic process and a widespread commitment to change among health care professionals, health care organizations, patients and their families, researchers, and policy makers.”
The attorneys at Decof, Decof & Barry want most to see the elimination of medical errors. We do not appreciate seeing our clients suffer needlessly. This report and its recommendations will hopefully help usher in a welcome reduction in diagnostic errors and injuries from medical providers. But, in the unfortunate event that you do suffer from a diagnostic error or other injury due to medical malpractice, the attorneys at Decof, Decof & Barry are here for you. We have decades of experience navigating through this complex field and reaching successful results for injured persons and their families.