Diagnostic Errors That Change Lives

On Behalf of | Jul 12, 2017 | Medical Malpractice


Diagnostic errors are common and can have fatal consequences for patients. It is estimated that up to 18 million diagnostic errors occur annually. These are responsible for approximately 10% of fatalities and 12% of adverse events that occur in hospitals each year. Each year, the National Institute of Medicine estimates that 74,000 people die as a result of a diagnostic error. Nationwide, it is estimated that as many as 15% of patients who see a physician for a new medical issue may be misdiagnosed. 

It is further estimated that between 80,000 and 160,000 individuals suffer permanent disability each year as the result of a misdiagnosis. According to studies conducted by Harvard, diagnostic errors in medicine are responsible for 17% of preventable errors in hospital patients. Further backing this claim is a study published within the Journal of American Medicine that studied the impact of diagnostic errors on patient mortality. The study showed that from 1966 to 2002, nearly 9% of patients experienced a serious diagnostic error that failed to uncover an underlying medical condition while they were alive. 

Common Diagnostic Errors

Misdiagnosis – A “misdiagnosis” is a “missed diagnosis.” Cancer, heart conditions, celiac disease, thyroid conditions, stroke, and pulmonary embolisms are commonly misdiagnosed during emergency room visits. Failing to properly identify these can have serious, potentially fatal consequences.

Miscommunication – Miscommunication is a silent and deadly specter in hospitals. Miscommunication can include failure to convey test results, failure to inform nursing staff regarding patient care instructions, failure to order pharmacological treatment, etc.     

Testing Errors – Testing errors can include ordering the wrong tests, not ordering sufficient testing to arrive at a proper diagnosis, and subjecting patients to testing for conditions they are unlikely to have. Testing errors can also include errors during the testing process that negatively affect the accuracy of the test results.

Outpatient vs. Inpatient Errors

68% of diagnostic errors occur in outpatient care settings, while 31% occur in inpatient settings. However, while smaller in number than outpatient errors, inpatient errors are more likely to have a lethal outcome. Of those who die as a result of a diagnostic error, 48% die in inpatient care, while 37% die in outpatient care.

Medical malpractice lawyers should be consulted any time a physician, technician, nurse, or any other member of the medical profession makes a diagnostic error. These errors can have serious consequences on a patient’s well-being and finances that should not be ignored or delayed. 


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