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diagnostic error

'The Big Three' Account for Most Diagnostic Errors

Every year, diagnostic errors in the U.S. result in up to 80,000 deaths and can leave nearly 160,000 patients with permanent disabilities. A recent study reveals that only three medical conditions account for nearly 75 percent of all diagnostic errors.

Research was conducted at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It concluded that diagnostic errors relating to cancer, vascular issues and infections occurred far more frequently than other conditions. The main source for the study was a database of 11,000 cases of medical malpractice claims in the U.S.

The study referred to them as "the big three". It found instances of diagnostic error affecting more than one-third of cancer patients, nearly 23 percent of those with vascular issues, and more than 13 percent of patients diagnosed with an infection. Errors in cancer diagnoses usually occurred in an outpatient setting, while misdiagnosis of vascular issues and infections took place in emergency departments.

The three most misdiagnosed diseases

Efforts to study the problem of misdiagnosis can quickly become overwhelming. There are more than 10,000 diseases with each one capable of exhibiting different symptoms. In this study, researchers examined the diagnostic "codes" used in the treatment of each disease. By grouping the codes together, they were able to determine which diseases were misdiagnosed most often.

In addition to identifying by disease, researchers also dug further and identified 15 conditions among the "big three" diseases that were most prone to diagnostic error. Of that group, lung cancer, stroke, and sepsis (a life-threatening condition caused by the body's reaction to infection) were the ones most often cited.

The most troubling part of the research found the cause of most diagnostic errors: clinical judgment failures. Recommendations on how to address this serious problem include:

  • Improving teamwork skills
  • Education for doctors
  • Technology to help with a diagnosis

The study also emphasized the importance of quicker patient access to medical specialists.

What's driving large-scale misdiagnosis?

These recommendations at least provide a starting point. The larger challenge to reducing diagnostic errors lies in the lack of government funding. Until the government views misdiagnosis issues as a priority, real progress will be difficult,  according to Dr. David Newman-Toker, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute Center for Diagnostic Excellence,

“Our current annual federal investment to fix diagnostic errors is less than what we spend each year researching smallpox, a disease eradicated in the U.S. over half a century ago,” he said.

Newman-Toker also said if appropriate resources were devoted to tackling misdiagnosis, the number of deaths and permanent disability could be cut in half.

Unfortunately, errors in clinical judgment involving "the big three" and other diseases do occur. When they do you need a knowledgeable and compassionate attorney on your side.

If you or a loved one were harmed as a result of a diagnostic error, talk to an experienced lawyer. Contact the Cherundolo Law Firm today in Syracuse for a free case consultation.