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Working from the understanding that a diagnostic error is “the failure to (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or (b) communicate that explanation to the patient,” a committee established by the Institute of Medicine recently reported that misdiagnoses of cancers, heart disease and other debilitating and deadly illnesses have many interrelated causes. In Improving Diagnosis in Health Care (PDF file), released September 22, 2015, the group identified difficulties with “inadequate collaboration and communication among clinicians, patients, and their families; a health care work system that is not well designed to support the diagnostic process; limited feedback to clinicians about diagnostic performance; and a culture that discourages transparency and disclosure of diagnostic errors, which in turn may impede attempts to learn from these events and improve diagnosis.” each of those shortcomings in the health care system will likely require top-to-bottom reengineering of health care practice and long-term commitment from providers, policymakers and even patients. Such efforts are necessary, however, because the toll taken by misdiagnoses is unbearable.

Evidence cited in the report and summarized in a U.S. News & World Report article includes the following:

  • About 5 percent of adults who seek outpatient care annually suffer a delayed or wrong diagnosis.
  • Postmortem research suggests that diagnostic errors are implicated in one of every 10 patient deaths. …
  • Chart reviews indicate that diagnostic errors account for up to 17 percent of hospital adverse events.
  • Diagnostic errors are the principle cause of paid malpractice claims and are almost twice as likely to end in a patient’s death than claims for other medical mishaps.

That final observation may offer hope to patients who suffer prolonged health problems following misdiagnoses–and even more so to families who have lost loved ones due doctors’ error. Proving misdiagnoses can be difficult, however. Simply point out that a physician was incorrect rarely suffices.

Succeeding with personal injury or wrongful death claim requires proving that the victim was harmed by negligence or recklessness. Within the scope of a medical malpractice lawsuit, then, a plaintiff must show that the health care provider negligently failed to meet standards for professionalism and of caring for the patient’s well-being. Reckless behavior by a physician could include practicing after losing their license, being impaired by alcohol or drugs while treating patients, and using methods or equipment widely acknowledged to produce more harm than healing.

Anyone who believes a misdiagnosis or other medical mistake has harmed them or a family member should reach out to an experienced and caring medical malpractice attorney. Determining if a claim can be made requires a thorough understanding of the health care system and the law.


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