Diagnostic Errors- An Often Overlooked but Common and Dangerous Type of Medical Error
One of the most frequent, but often ignored, causes of medical malpractice claims in our country are diagnostic errors, which include missed, delayed, and incorrect diagnoses leading to patient injury or death. In fact, statistics show that over 50% of ER-related medical malpractice claims involved a diagnostic error and that 1 in 10 diagnosis provided to patients are WRONG. More troubling, recent studies show that diagnostic errors account for twice as many adverse events than medication errors.
A recent article from the Baylor University College of Medicine, "Reform of Primary Care Could Reduce Diagnostic Errors" discussed in detail the problems diagnostic error are posing for the patient population and our health care system. The authors cited another article entitled “Reducing Diagnostic Error through Medical Home-Based Primary Care Reform”, featured in the July 28, 2010, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, estimates that diagnostic errors are the basis for 40% of ambulatory malpractice claim and cost approximately $300,000 per claim on average.
In this article, the authors set forth a new model, which outlines five principles aimed at reducing the incidence of diagnostic errors. These principles, which have been approved by numerous medical associations and colleges, are defined as Right Teamwork, Right Information Management, Right Measurement and Monitoring, Right Patient Management, and Right Safety Culture. The new model places a heavy focus and emphasis on teamwork and partnerships between the individual patient, the patient’s family, and the patient’s physician.
Dr, John Clarke, clinical director of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, discussed this issue in a recent study. He stated that:
Diagnostic errors are often the first or second leading cause of medical malpractice claims in the United States. They account for twice as many ongoing and settled claims as medication errors.
New health care laws, with their emphasis on improving health care through quality initiatives and performance measures, could also divert too much attention from the fundamental problem of patients being misdiagnosed and, in turn, not being treated for the right condition, a common cause of mortality and morbidity in hospitals throughout our country.