Diagnostic mistakes are more common than most people think

On Behalf of | Jul 9, 2024 | Personal Injury

Doctors provide numerous services for their patients. They recommend medication or send someone out to a specialist for additional testing. Before deciding on a treatment plan, a doctor’s primary responsibility involves determining the source of someone’s symptoms.

The diagnostic process can be quite lengthy. Some conditions, like bacterial infections, are simple to diagnose with the right tests. Doctors can reach a clear diagnostic conclusion based on imaging or laboratory results. Other times, doctors have to eliminate certain potential causes of symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis of exclusion.

After years of schooling, physicians in theory have the knowledge necessary to identify the causes of people’s ailments. Unfortunately, it is quite common for doctors to make mistakes when diagnosing their patients. Diagnostic errors are among the most common forms of medical malpractice that occur in the United States.

How often do doctors make diagnostic errors?

There are two different types of diagnostic mistakes possible. The first is a misdiagnosis. A doctor delivers a diagnosis to a patient, but it’s not the right one. A doctor might diagnose someone with migraines when the migraines are actually a symptom of a slow-growing brain tumor. The other kind of diagnostic mistake is a failure to diagnose. A physician can’t figure out what caused someone’s issues or doesn’t believe self-reported symptoms identified by a patient. They turn them away without diagnosing them.

In any given year, between 10 and 20% of autopsies turn up signs of prior diagnostic errors by doctors. Researchers estimate that between 40,000 and 80,000 people annually die due to diagnostic errors. For every case that leads to a patient dying, there are many more in which patients suffer unnecessarily due to the failures of their physicians. Some experts believe that most people in the United States experience at least one diagnostic error at some time in their lives.

Diagnosis is crucial for patient recovery

In cases where doctors fail in a basic responsibility like proper diagnosis, they may have committed medical malpractice. If another physician could properly diagnose someone with the information available to a medical professional, their misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose could constitute malpractice.

When there are consequences for the patient, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. If someone misses work or has more medical expenses because of the diagnostic failure, they could seek compensation for the losses caused by the medical professional’s oversights and errors. Initiating a medical malpractice claim can help people cover the costs generated by a worsening condition left untreated or undergoing the wrong kind of treatment. Patients who identify diagnostic mistakes as a form of malpractice can seek justice through the civil courts.