When you think of medical malpractice, you probably think of a specific event: The slip of a surgical blade, administration of the wrong medication, or a sponge or other object left inside a patient after surgery. Some of the most high-profile types of hospital malpractice are even more frightening, such as surgery performed on the wrong body part or an overdose of anesthetic.
All those types of malpractice can occur in Ohio medical facilities, and some carry long-term consequences or may even be fatal. But one of the most dangerous types of medical error – failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis — is often overlooked. In fact, there is little reliable data about the number or rate of misdiagnosis events or how serious the outcomes are. Here’s what we do know.
What is Medical Misdiagnosis?
The term “medical misdiagnosis” is self-explanatory, but it’s worth considering what it means in practical terms. Imagine, for example, that you visit your doctor because you are experiencing episodes of your heart racing and skipping. Your doctor listens to your heart, runs an EKG while you’re in the office and not experiencing symptoms, and determines that you are suffering from anxiety. The doctor first suggests that you try relaxation techniques, exercise, and reducing stress in your life. You try that for a couple of months, but are still experiencing symptoms. So, the doctor tries an anti-anxiety medication. You start taking the medication, but a few weeks later suffer a heart attack–one that might have been prevented if the doctor had correctly diagnosed tachycardia and prescribed appropriate medication.
In this case, misdiagnosis has the same practical effect as failure to diagnose: a serious medical condition goes untreated. But, in some cases, misdiagnosis can have even more serious consequences. That’s especially true when being treated for the wrong illness has serious side effects or means unnecessary surgery or other serious intervention.
Misdiagnosis / Failure to Diagnose is More Common than You May Think
The misdiagnosis / failure to diagnose data that is available is frightening. A study published in 2022 found that about 5.7% of people who visit hospital emergency rooms each year are misdiagnosed, and about 2% suffer adverse effects due to the misdiagnosis. A smaller percentage suffer very serious consequences: about one emergency department visitor in 350 suffers death or serious disability due to a misdiagnosis.
But, the problem isn’t a new one, nor is it limited to emergency care. The study referenced above concluded that the rates were about the same as those seen in primary care and inpatient hospital care settings. And, earlier data supports the conclusion that the risk level is high.
In 2015, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine concluded that it is likely that each of us will experience at least one misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose in our lifetimes. That organization strongly advocated for better data gathering and analysis in the diagnostic arena, saying “…improving the diagnostic process is not only possible, we believe, but it does represent a moral, professional and public health imperative.” That process is ongoing, and some additional data has emerged in the intervening years.
A report from medical malpractice insurance carrier Corverys showed that 33% of claims and 47% of payouts among the group studied resulted from diagnosis-related events. More than half were serious in nature and more than a third resulted in death. But those numbers may only scratch the surface, since diagnostic errors aren’t always discovered.
Common Diagnostic Errors
A study headed up by David E. Newman-Toker of the Center for Diagnostic Excellence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine honed in on the sources of the most significant diagnosis-related harm. His research reported that 74.1% of high-severity cases involving diagnostic errors fell into three categories: vascular issues, infection, and cancers. Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose cancers accounted for 37.8% of high-severity cases. The most common misdiagnoses or missed diagnoses in each of the “big three” categories were:
- Vascular: stroke;
- Infection: sepsis;
- Cancers: lung cancer.
However, misdiagnosis of seemingly less serious medical conditions can also have a significant impact.
How Dangerous are Diagnostic Errors?
The impact of failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis varies widely, depending on factors such as:
- The seriousness of the condition that went undiagnosed;
- The age and overall health of the patient;
- Whether and when the appropriate diagnosis was made.
While the risks of failing to diagnose conditions or diseases such as heart failure and cancer are fairly obvious–delayed treatment can be fatal–others are far more dangerous than you might imagine.
One commonly overlooked condition that creates a substantial risk to the patient is bedsores, also known as pressure sores or decubitus ulcers. While it’s easy to assume that these sores are at most unsightly and uncomfortable, failure to treat bedsores appropriately and in a timely manner can have catastrophic effects, including loss of limbs and even death.
Proving Negligence in a Failure to Diagnose Case
Establishing a medical malpractice claim for failure to diagnose can be challenging. First, proving liability in a medical malpractice case is generally more complicated than proving negligence in a personal injury case. And proving that the physician failed to diagnose a condition isn’t sufficient to prove negligence. Rather, your attorney must be able to demonstrate that the doctor failed to meet the appropriate standard of care in testing and assessing your condition.
This means that the physician had reason to know about your condition and missed it.
You also must prove that the harm you suffered resulted from the missed or delayed diagnosis, which can be challenging when the condition is one that has an uncertain prognosis, even with early detection.
That’s why it’s important to hire the right medical malpractice attorneys for your case. The attorneys at Plevin & Gallucci have in-depth experience in handling medical malpractice cases, including failure to diagnose claims. We have obtained significant six-figure settlements for victims of misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis, including a man who lost a testicle due to failure to timely diagnose torsion and a patient who died as a result of untreated pressure sores.
We understand the hurdles Ohio law creates for victims of medical malpractice and how best to clear them, and we have the network necessary to secure qualified expert witnesses to help establish your claim initially and prove negligence and resulting harm.
If you have been a victim of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, or you have lost a loved one because a medical professional failed to diagnose a condition in time to treat your family member effectively, you owe it to yourself to learn more about how we can help. You can schedule a free consultation right now. Just call 855-4PLEVIN, fill out the contact form on this website, or click in the lower right-hand corner of your screen to chat with us.