Diagnostic errors are a pervasive threat to patient safety – and they happen at an alarming rate. Roughly one out of every three people have experienced a diagnostic error personally, and they’re detected in up to 20% of autopsies.
Diagnostic errors – not surgical mistakes – are the biggest source of medical malpractice claims, resulting in untold devastation to patient health, finances and peace of mind. These are the three primary concerns that drive diagnostic errors.
This occurs when a medical provider mistakes one medical condition for another, leading to an incorrect diagnosis upon which the patient relies – often with disastrous consequences. For example, a patient may be told that their chest pain is acid reflux when they actually have a heart condition. The patient ends up relying on that diagnosis and follows the treatment protocol for acid reflux – which does them no good. Meanwhile, their heart condition quietly worsens.
This happens when a medical provider misses the obvious signs and symptoms of a disease for far too long – and the correct diagnosis may only come after the patient’s condition gets dramatically worse. For example, a patient presents with fatigue, weakness and unexplained weakness but their symptoms are dismissed as stress from recent life events. Only when the condition becomes painful is cancer detected. By that point, the patient may have lost the chance for recovery.
Failures to diagnose
This is when a medical provider simply overlooks a serious condition entirely. For example, a provider may fail to notice that a patient is suffering from high blood pressure even though their blood pressure readings are clearly elevated for months. Without treatment, the patient ends up having a heart attack or a stroke.
Diagnostic errors occur for all kinds of reasons. Some come from cognitive biases that can cloud a medical provider’s knowledge. Others are the result of systemic failures that are often related to an overburdened health care system and poor communication between providers. Others are related to problems with misinterpretation or misunderstanding of clinical data.
Whatever the cause, you have a right to expect fair compensation for your losses, if you’ve suffered harm due to a medical mistake. Seeking legal assistance can help you better understand the options available to you.