Physicians have a very challenging job. They have to take the information provided by a patient, which may be inaccurate or incomplete, and use those details to reach an accurate diagnosis of what has caused someone’s symptoms.
Years of medical school are typically necessary for people to reliably and accurately diagnose medical conditions in others. It is only after accurate diagnosis that a patient will be able to consider the best treatment possible for their condition. Sadly, diagnostic errors are far more common than people realize. In fact, they affect millions of people every year just in the United States.
Research shows that medical errors are common
Researchers find it challenging to accurately identify the total number of medical errors that occur every year, as many cases go unreported. However, they can look at the reported cases and then extrapolate that to reach reasonable conclusions. Experts estimate that as many as 5% of all medical patients seeking care experience either a failure to diagnose or a misdiagnosis each year in the United States. Doctors either do not diagnose them at all or diagnose them with the wrong condition, both of which are mistakes with medical consequences.
Those mistakes can be devastating for the patient and could result in a far worse overall prognosis or even in someone dying. Somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 medical patients each year lose their lives because of diagnostic mistakes made by the professionals providing their care. Millions of others may have to undergo more invasive and expensive treatment or suffer needlessly for weeks before they uncover and resolve the diagnostic mistake.
Diagnostic failings are a top form of malpractice
Whether a doctor reaches an entirely erroneous diagnosis or they fail to diagnose someone at all, a diagnostic error could very easily constitute actionable medical malpractice. Patients harmed by a doctor’s inaccurate conclusions could file a claim against the individual practitioner or their employer. Families who have lost a loved one due to diagnostic errors can also potentially initiate medical malpractice lawsuits in response to their family tragedies.
Realizing that diagnostic errors are common and largely preventable may help people take action when a doctor fails to provide them with appropriate care.