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The costs and consequences of diagnostic errors

The failure to properly diagnose a serious medical condition can have devastating, possibly life threatening consequences. In most cases, time is of the essence when it comes to a safe and healthy recovery. With cancer, for example, the failure to diagnose cancer or a delay in diagnosis could result in metastasis. Because of this, the failure to diagnose a medical condition that results in the progression of a disease is generally actionable under the law.

In a research study conducted at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, misdiagnosis or diagnostic error were found to be the number one most common and most costly medical mistakes in the United States. The study, which analyzed diagnosis-related medical malpractice claims between 1986 and 2010, found that diagnostic errors accounted for 35 percent of the $38.8 billion paid out in malpractice claims over the last 25 years.

In addition to the significant financial costs, according to the same research study, as many as 160,000 patients suffer from serious permanent injuries or death every year as a result of misdiagnosis. In fact, diagnostic errors were the leading cause of all medical malpractice claims associated with death and disability in the U.S. While most diagnostic errors occurred in outpatient settings, diagnostic errors that occurred in hospitals were generally more fatal.

Establishing a medical malpractice claim for failure to diagnosis is a complex legal matter. When assessing a diagnostic error for medical malpractice, the first question an attorney will ask is whether a reasonably prudent doctor under similar circumstance would have come to the same conclusion based on the information available at the time. If the decision was not, in fact, reasonable under the circumstances a medical malpractice claim is very appropriate.

Source: WFMJ, "Misdiagnosis leading cause of U.S. malpractice payouts," Denise Mann, April 23, 2013

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