Diagnostic errors can have serious consequences that can prolong pain and suffering, and at worst, claim a patient’s life. These types of mistakes are very common and their frequency raises serious concerns over patient safety in the United States. Diagnostic errors are more common than surgical mistakes and patients should be aware of the most common types of errors that occur in hospitals, outpatient care facilities, and physician’s offices.
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The Blind Spot
Diagnostic errors are considered a blind spot within the medical profession. Little is known, and little is done aside from filing medical malpractice lawsuits, to prevent them. In many instances, physicians do not become aware of their errors until a patient’s health deteriorates. In the United States, it is estimated that diagnostic errors claim between 80,000 and 160,000 lives per year. This is often because many treatable conditions such as early-stage cancer, heart disease, etc., are undiagnosed. By the time the condition is properly diagnosed, the patient’s health has declined to the point where the condition is no longer treatable with a favorable outcome.
Causes of Errors
Diagnostic errors can include the improper reading of test results, ordering the wrong test, or improper use of equipment used in testing. It can include improper sample collection and storage of samples. These errors can lead to cross-contamination, loss of testing sample, and the loss or destruction of a viable sample.
The Results of Diagnostic Errors
Diagnostic errors can have a myriad of consequences. These include delayed diagnosis which can complicate treatment, failure to diagnose concurrent diseases, failure to identify potential complications from treatment, and missed or incorrect diagnosis. In some cases, patients are told they are not sick only to discover later that a potentially treatable condition has progressed to the point where it is terminal.
There is no magic-bullet solution to the problem of diagnostic errors. Eliminating them requires a multifaceted approach to healthcare that includes improved patient communication, enhanced training within the healthcare team, and better reporting methods so that when errors occur, their causes can be studied. For those affected by a diagnostic error, a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer can help patients or their survivors file complaints and pursue claims against physicians, laboratories, and other responsible parties so that repeats of these errors can be prevented in the future.