Diagnostic Errors Are Leading Cause of Successful Medical Malpractice Claims

A recent study by BMJ Quality & Safety, a publication of the British Medical Journal, found that most successful malpractice claims were based upon a diagnostic error committed by a medical professsional. While many of us first think of cringe-inducing surgical nightmares, including amputations of a healthy leg, the misplaced sponge or surgical tool left in a patient’s body, or an error in prescribing medication as the main cause of medical malpractice claims, it turns out that a failure to properly diagnose a condition is the number one type of a successful malpractice case. The study conducted by BMJ makes clear that incorrect diagnoses made up 29 percent of successful malpractice lawsuits. In addition, claims involving a misdiagnosis caused 39 percent of malpractice-related deaths.

The study examined 350,000 malpractice cases from 1986 to 2010 and here is a breakdown of the types of medical errors which resulted in successful malpractice claims:

  • Diagnostic – 29%
  • Treatment – 27%
  • Surgical – 24%
  • Obstetrical – 7%
  • Medication -5%
  • Anesthesia -3%

So the next time you think your doctor is not as proactive as you would like, get a second opinion. If the doctor offering a second opinion is equally non-proactive, get a third opinion. Keep searching until your doctor is as proactive as you are in raising a concern, in asking and answering questions, and in considering solutions. If your doctor is not a great communicator, find one that is. A good doctor should encourage questions and provide thoughtful answers.

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