A report recently released by CRICO Strategies, a division of the Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions, focuses on medical malpractice cases brought because of diagnostic errors. CRICO maintains a database with information about more than 300,000 malpractice cases, both open and closed. For this study, they analyzed more than 23,000 malpractice cases filed between 2008 and 2012 to find out what kinds of medical errors led to the lawsuits. Twenty percent of them were brought by patients who alleged failure to properly diagnose their illness.

Researchers found that most diagnostic failures happen in ambulatory care, as opposed to emergency department or inpatient care.

As you would expect, most of the physicians involved in making diagnostic errors in the ambulatory care context were family physicians and doctors of internal medicine, rather than surgeons or radiologists.

Medical Misdiagnosis

What caused the diagnostic failures?

  • Delay in ordering a diagnostic test
  • Failure to order a diagnostic test
  • Misinterpretation of a diagnostic test
  • Failure to establish a diagnosis
  • Failure to follow-up and coordinate treatment.

Most Common Misdiagnoses

The top three missed diagnoses, according to this study, are cancer, heart disease and orthopedic injuries. In the category of missed cancers, the most common type is breast cancer; 17% of the cancer misdiagnoses in the CRICO malpractice database involved breast cancer. The second most commonly misdiagnosed cancer was lung cancer.

One of the most startling findings in the study was that the average age of patients who died after an ambulatory misdiagnosis was 52 years old.

Most medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. Of the ambulatory misdiagnosis cases in the CRICO study, 35% resulted in a payment to the plaintiff — 4% of the settlements were in excess of $1 million; the average payment was $442,000.

The key issue in successfully bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit is being able to show that the doctor was negligent and that negligence caused the injury to the patient. To be found negligent, the healthcare provider must have deviated from the accepted standard of care.

Investigating Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice cases can be quite complex, and they’re always vigorously defended. At the Offices of Steven H. Heisler, however, we’re guided by our years of experience and working relationships with medical experts who can determine whether it can be shown that another doctor, under similar circumstances, would have made a correct diagnosis or a more timely diagnosis. Contact us at (410) 625-4878 to discuss your medical misdiagnosis.