According to a September 2015 report by the non-profit Institute of Medicine, as many as 5% of Americans are misdiagnosed, and these faulty, missed, or delayed diagnoses contribute to 10% of patient deaths. For those who are not killed by these mistakes, they cause between 6 and 17 percent medical errors in hospitals.
Diagnostic errors are the leading cause of medical malpractice claims in the United States, and also are the leading cause of severe patient harm.
TYPES OF DIAGNOSTIC ERRORS
Generally, there are two types of errors in diagnosis:
- Wrong (or Missed) Diagnosis: The doctor diagnosis the patient with the wrong medical condition, or otherwise fails to diagnose the patient with the correct medical condition, and therefore the patient fails to receive appropriate treatment;
- Delayed Diagnosis: The doctors fail to make a timely, correct diagnosis, and therefore necessary treatment is unreasonably delayed, leading to serious injury or death.
Some cases will have just one type of diagnostic errors, but others (as we will see below) contain multiple errors.
CASE EXAMPLE—MULTIPLE MISDIAGNOSES
In 2014 a 54-year-old man went to his family doctor with complaints of low back pain, and pain, tingling and serious weakness in both feet and both hands. The weakness was so bad in his hands that he had trouble gripping things and his feet problems were causing frequent falls.
The family doctor did a quick but incomplete assessment of his nerves but failed to do an MRI of his neck. The combination of symptoms clearly indicated the source of these problems was in the neck. He told the patient he had a general condition called “peripheral neuropathy,” and then set up an appointment with a neurologist (nerve specialist), but there was a three-month delay to get in. In the meantime, this patient returned to this family clinic twice to report his symptoms were getting worse, but they just reassured him, and again failed to do a neck MRI.
When the patient finally saw a neurologist, that doctor immediately ordered a neck MRI, which showed the patient had severe bone abnormalities that were placing serious pressure on his spinal cord. Finally, this patient got the correct diagnosis. The neurologist did surgery that same day to take the pressure off the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Unfortunately, due to the unreasonably long delay in diagnosis, the patient was left with permanent pain, weakness, and disability — any further delay, and the man would have become quadriplegic. This case is an excellent example of all several diagnostic errors. The patient was initially misdiagnosed, which delayed in receiving proper treatment and testing (neck MRI), which delayed the correct diagnosis, resulting in severe, debilitating injury for this man.
Receiving the right diagnosis at the right time is often the difference between life and death.
To discuss a potential case of misdiagnosis or medical negligence resulting in serious injury or death, call us at 312-527-4500 for a Free Consultation with one of our top-rated attorneys.