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Diagnostic errors dominate medical malpractice claims

According to the Journal of Patient Safety, between 210,000 and 400,000 people die every year because of a medical mistake. Based on these numbers, the Journal of the American Medical Association determined that medical negligence has become the third leading cause of death in the country. The reason for the range in numbers is that limitations in medical records make the exact cause hard to track.

What is not disputable is the leading factor behind medical malpractice lawsuits: diagnostic errors. A diagnostic error could mean:

  • Failing to diagnose a problem in a timely manner
  • Misdiagnosing a medical condition
  • Never catching the issue

The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine conducted a study in which researchers pored over 25 years of malpractice claims. The study found that failure to diagnose or other diagnostic mistakes account for 160,000 deaths or permanent injuries every year. Further, researchers found that these types of errors lead the charge in terms of the factors that lead to malpractice lawsuits resulting in an award or settlement for the victim, comprising 28.6 percent of the total. At the same time, lawsuits stemming from diagnostic errors also have the highest payouts, netting $38.8 billion over the 25-year period.

Coming up with a solution for the problem may not be cut-and-dry. The Johns Hopkins study reported that because it can be hard to pinpoint when or even if a diagnostic error occurs, it is difficult to track the problem. Additionally, there are no public reporting requirements necessary for these types of errors as there are for other mistakes, such as a surgical error. However, patients deserve to feel safe under the care of a physician who can properly identify and treat their condition, and the medical industry needs to find a solution for this problem.

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