One of the main kinds of medical malpractice cases are for injuries or wrongful death that occurs as a result of a doctor making a mistake in diagnosis of the patient.
Our law firm handles medical malpractice lawsuits in Virginia (VA), North Carolina (NC), and elsewhere. So, I bought a new book called How Doctors Think hoping it would help the attorneys I work with continue to be among the best personal injury lawyers in the Norfolk, Virginia (VA) and Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA) area doing “med mal” litigation. As I was reading this new best seller by Jerome Groopman, M.D., I was amazed by some of the statistics having to do with misdiagnosis. For example, one study of physicians estimated a rate of error in diagnosis at 15%, meaning 1 in 6 patients were incorrectly assessed. That statistic on medical errors was based upon an article published in a book called Clinical Reasoning in the Health Professions. A study in the prestigious JAMA journal of medicine in 1983 showed that diagnostic errors did not change at an American university teaching hospital even after introduction of newer technologies like CT scans. In fact one of the points of the book How Doctors Think is that physicians may over rely on technology like MRI’s and not use their brains enough to think through the patient’s problem. Another study cited in the book shows that in the U.S. 50,000 deaths occur each year that could have been prevented if the actual correct diagnosis had been discovered.
Dr. Groopman analyzes the cognitive or mental errors that doctors may fall into and thereby miss the correct diagnosis. For example, a doctor may find something wrong and then stop looking, failing to realize there may be more than one thing wrong with the patient. Another type of mental mistake doctors make in potential diagnostic malpractice is to assume that the most obvious medical problem may be going on like the flu during flu season when in fact the patient has something different, possibly rarer, and more deadly going on.
When we are handling medical malpractice cases at our law firm, we often see the same pattern of mistakes repeated. Sometimes this is a result of a particularly bad doctor who has no business practicing in Virginia (VA) or any other state. Hopefully those bad apples get their licenses taken away by the Virginia Board of Medicine for repeated gross negligence. However, numerous cases also occur where malpractice is committed by a very good doctor who simply made a mental mistake in a given patients care. The legal system still holds these doctors accountable for lapses in judgment if they result in an injury to a patient in violation of the applicable Virginia (VA) standard of care. However, understanding how cognitive errors can occur, it’s easier to recognize that mistakes can be made even by a competent physician because of the nature of modern medicine as practiced in the U.S. For example, the over reliance on machines rather than the human brain to guide the diagnostic process is one problem. Another problem is the lack of good communication between doctor and patient that sometimes results from the rushed atmosphere of current medical practice where insurance companies put pressure on doctors to run their offices like factories with one eye always on the clock.