When we visit a medical professional we expect a remedy for our discomfort and a reason for problematic symptoms. What we do not expect, in this age of technologically proficient healthcare, is to become a victim of a medical mistake. Health care is subjective, and doctors make mistakes.
Any misdiagnosis can result in unnecessary, unpleasant, and serious consequences for patients. Errors in judgment can mean a patient will be exposed to treatments, and medications, for conditions they don’t have. While being treated for the wrong illness or disease, an undiagnosed problem can lead to serious complications, including death.
A recent study at Johns Hopkins confirms medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America, responsible for more than 250,000 lives lost every year. A wrong diagnosis is alarming, and it is a critical patient safety issue.
Why Medical Mistakes Happen
Whether it is a failure to recognize a problem, a diagnosis made too late, or just the wrong one – the long-term effects on the patient, or a family, can be devastating. It is common for a patient to experience a significant financial hardship chasing a cure for a disease he or she does not have. The ultimate complication of a medical mistake is untimely death. This is when a misdiagnosis can lead to malpractice litigation.
Forbes reveals that Americans file an estimated 17,000 medical malpractice suits each year. A recent report from a medical malpractice insurance carrier shows the metrics for Nebraska are 25.6 malpractice suits per 100,000 residents, and a total payout of $13.7 million.
The data from the 2019 Medical Malpractice Payout Report, released in April, tells us medical professionals in Nebraska were on the losing end of 53 malpractice claims in 2018. This represents a total payout of $17,824,500 and a 31 percent increase over 2017. Additionally, a Nebraska medical malpractice summary reports Nebraska has only had 25 settlements of over a million dollars since 1991.
34.1 percent of Nebraska’s medical malpractice claims paid out in 2018 were due to diagnosis-related issues. Other reasons include:
- 21.4 percent – Surgery
- 21.1 percent – Treatment
- 10.3 percent – Obstetrics related
- 4.5 percent – Medication-related
- 3.3 percent – Anesthesia-related
- 3.2 percent – Monitoring
- 1.2 percent – Miscellaneous
- 0.6 percent – Equipment
- 0.3 percent – Behavioral health related
- 0.1 percent – IV and Blood product related
Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions
Some of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions include:
- Pulmonary embolism
- Thyroid disease
- Celiac disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lyme disease
- Heart disease
- Staph infection
In these conditions, the symptoms can be subtly similar. A person with potentially life-threatening asthma can present with the same complaints as someone with bronchitis. Similarly:
- A heart attack can have the same symptoms as indigestion
- Systemic staph infection, which can be deadly, may present exactly like flu
- Stroke is often misdiagnosed as a migraine in young patients
- Depression is a condition with symptoms similar to chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress, and bipolar disorder
- Fibromyalgia can be mistaken for arthritis, lupus, or chronic fatigue syndrome
Diagnostic Error Is an Important Safety Issue
Although a few years old, the conclusions and predictions in an article from the New England Journal Of Medicine are concerning:
- “Each year during the fifteen-year study 7.4 percent of all physicians had a malpractice claim”
- “78 percent of all claims did not result in payments to claimants”
- “It was estimated that by the age of 65 years, 75 percent of physicians in low-risk specialties had faced a malpractice claim, as compared with 99 percent of physicians in high-risk specialties”
Diagnostic errors, by licensed medical professionals, happen regularly due to:
- Failure to recognize symptoms
- Failure to order the necessary testing
- Misreading lab results, x-rays, or other test results
- Lack of attention to a patient’s medical history
It is possible faulty equipment and/or human error will result in a misdiagnosis. Contaminated specimens, mislabeling a patient’s specimen, performing the wrong procedure, or performing it incorrectly are all examples of the part human error can play in a patient receiving a wrong diagnosis. In such cases, liability may fall on a nurse, lab tech, or possibly even the hospital, as well as the treating physician.
Diagnostic errors can result in:
- Prescribing a wrong medication
- Ordering an improper dose of a medication
- Unnecessary surgery
- Improper discharge from hospital
- Improper follow-up or aftercare
Nebraska’s Headlines and News Stories Illustrate the Problem
Receiving treatment for a disease a person does not have can cause serious injury. Additionally, a person who is misdiagnosed is not receiving the care they need to combat the disease they actually do have. These scenarios fall far below acceptable standards of care. Sadly, some recent headlines from the Omaha World-Herald illustrate the unacceptable consequences of medical errors.
- “Unlicensed midwife charged in death of infant after problems arise during home delivery in Omaha”
- “Jury awards $3.4 million to the family of an Omaha woman who died after surgery”
If You Are Concerned
Sometimes a medical professional may treat a condition beyond the scope of his or her particular area of expertise. If you feel that you or a family member is suffering because of a medical misdiagnosis, or if you have unexpectedly lost a family member due to a questionable medical procedure, trust your instincts, be proactive and take charge of your future.
- Document, in detail, the course of the medical treatment
- List the names of every physician who was consulted and every facility where the treatment occurred
- Create a pain/symptom journal
- Keep accurate records or all bills and other expenses pertaining to the illness
Finally, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your legal options. Don’t wait to get the legal help you need.