Missed and Wrong Diagnoses Put Thousands at Risk

A recent Reuter’s article affirmed that diagnostic errors are a major public health issue, and may even lead to more patient deaths and injuries than most other mistakes. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this article to bring the frightening reality of the effects of missed and wrong diagnoses to public attention.

The article cited Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Dr. David Newman-Toker, who stated that a minimum of 150,000 Americans per year suffer from disabilities or death as a result of diagnostic errors. Dr. Newman-Toker wrote a commentary on a new study in which researchers tracked nearly 200 diagnostic errors at a primary care health facility using electronic health records.

The cases researchers tracked involved misdiagnoses that lead to hospitalization or ER visits within two weeks. Researchers found that the ailments in these cases varied largely, ranging from heart failure to cancer to pneumonia. Each of these conditions made up about five to seven percent of illnesses that physicians mistakenly diagnosed as something else at first visit. Out of the nearly 200 patients who suffered from missed or wrong diagnoses, more than 35 had serious and permanent damage done to them as a result. Alarmingly, nearly 30 patients died.

Researchers noted that many of these patients showed signs and symptoms that are very commonplace, such as shortness of breath and stomach pains, which could be symptomatic of a wide array of ailments. Most of the diagnostic errors could be traced back to the initial primary care visit, when the doctor did not receive an adequate patient’s history, failed to administer a full exam, or did not order the correct tests.

Errors of this type can be corrected, but many of these changes have to come from medical school training programs. Patients can curtail a small amount of errors by coming to the doctor’s office prepared with their medical history and other relevant information, including the details and timing of their symptoms.

Dr. Newman-Toker stated that he thinks it is important that patients feel comfortable questioning and observing their doctors. Patients should engage, ask pointed questions, and not just assume that diagnoses are the final, correct answer. For example, if a patient’s symptoms worsen or change, doctors should be notified, and patients should not assume their condition is not serious just because their doctor initially told them it was not.

In one misdiagnosis medical malpractice lawsuit, a mother is suing a pediatrician for failing to recognize that her daughter had viral meningitis. The eight-year-old girl was taken to the pediatrician with a headache, fever, and sore neck. According to the pediatrician’s notes, there were six possible explanations, including allergies, migraines, and viral meningitis.

The physician determined the girl was suffering from allergies, and sent her and her mother home with medication and instructions to keep a diary about her symptoms. 48 hours after being sent home, the girl started having seizures and fell into a three-week coma. She emerged from the coma with permanent, life-changing brain damage.

In the lawsuit, a specialist in children’s brain damage was called to testify. He stated that viral meningitis is such a serious and disabling condition that doctors cannot afford to mistake it as something else, further stating that this particular pediatrician violated the standard of care by failing to perform tests for meningitis.

Her family is seeking upwards of $15 million in the case, as this is the number a life-care planning expert estimated it will cost the family to take care of the girl for the rest of her life. She needed to learn to walk, eat, and talk all over again, and although she has made some improvement, her mother was told she will never function above a child’s level.

Medical malpractice lawyers warn about the possibility of missed and wrong diagnoses in primary care visits. Although these cases get less attention than surgical errors and dangerous medications, the effects can be just as deadly. If you or someone close to you was seriously injured by a diagnostic error or any other form of medical negligence, you may be entitled to significant compensation.

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