Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are often discouraged by the mounting numbers of medical errors occurring each year. New reports, however, have given us reason to celebrate – it seems that medical malpractice claims, and claims of diagnostic error in particular, are encouraging medical practitioners to clean up their act, and do what is necessary to prevent future errors.
Experts estimate that claims related to diagnostic errors account for around 40% of all medical malpractice claims nationwide. That number is much higher as to “high severity” medical malpractice claims – cases that result in serious harm or death. As to those claims, diagnostic errors account for about half of all claims.
On average, diagnostic error claims result in settlements of around $300,000, although there is considerable variation in that amount. And autopsy analysis covering four decades, done by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, found that each year diagnostic errors claim the lives of somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 Americans. Our Chicago malpractice lawyers find this figure simple inexcusable.
So how do these errors occur? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question. Indeed, it has been said that the average diagnostic error includes at least three breakdowns. These can include patient responsibility, as well – patients who put off seeking medical attention for far too long, or who assume after a test is done that “no news is good news” and fail to follow up.
But most of these breakdowns occur in the hands of the medical professionals whom patients have trusted with their health and lives. One of the most common causes of diagnostic error is a physician’s failure to recognize that test results were lost or simply failed to arrive. Another common breakdown is a doctor’s failure, after receiving abnormal test results, to follow up with the patient.
The many malpractice claims arising from these errors has caused some of our nations largest healthcare providers to stand up and take notice. For example, Kaiser Permanente has instituted tight follow up procedures after using malpractice claims data for education. As a result of these new procedures, the industry giant estimates that it has already caught at least 450 cancer cases that would otherwise have gone unidentified. The medical malpractice lawyers of Passen & Powell commend Kaiser Permanente on its efforts, and hope that others take notice, and likewise take action.
Likewise, the Veterans’ Health Administration is actively developing new procedures to help doctors respond to abnormal test alerts. The agency’s studies of malpractice claims have taught it that the sheer number of such alerts often overwhelms doctors who have no system in place, leading to errors, lost lives, and malpractice claims. The agency is also looking to address another problem its analysis has uncovered: when test results go to two doctors, such as a primary care physician and a specialist, often both will fail to respond, assuming that the other will follow up. The VA is looking for the best way to change this pattern.
Still, one wonders why it takes a medical malpractice case to encourage physicians to take these basic steps. Following up on abnormal test results, or test results that fail to arrive, is such a commonsense measure that it is shocking that such procedures are not already in place.
Doctors often argue that they are forced by medical malpractice claims to practice “defensive medicine,” ordering unnecessary diagnostic tests to ward off lawsuits. Indeed, in June the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that in a survey of physicians, a whopping 91% stated that doctors had been forced to practice defensive medicine. Yet these physicians still fail to take basic precautions to ensure that lab results, and patients themselves, do not fall through the cracks.
Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are pleased to see healthcare professionals taking the problem of misdiagnoses seriously. We are also heartened and encouraged to see that our efforts, and those of our colleagues, are resulting in meaningful change in the medical profession, saving lives and heartache. If you or someone you love has been the victim of medical error, whether diagnostic or otherwise, we encourage you to speak to an experienced malpractice attorney to determine if you might have a claim. Bringing your claim may be the act that saves a life – or many lives – in years to come.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.