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Study Reveals that Diagnostic Errors are the Leading Cause of Medical Malpractice – Sept. 13, 2013

According to a recent study published in the BMJ Quality and Safety, errors by medical practitioners regarding diagnosis are the leading cause of successful medical malpractice claims. The study examined roughly 350,000 malpractice payments which were listed between 1986 and 2010 in the National Practitioner Data Bank maintained by the federal government.

Diagnostic errors accounted for roughly 29% of all successful claims followed by treatment inaccuracies at 27%, surgical mishaps at 24%, obstetrical problems at 7%, medication errors at 5% and anesthesia complications at 3%.

Forty one percent of the diagnosis-related claims resulted in death.  While diagnosis errors represented  29% of the total successful claims, they represented over 35 percent of the total amount of compensation paid, roughly thirty nine billion dollars when adjusted for inflation.  The average diagnostic error claim payment was $389,000 which was second only to obstetrical errors which averaged $695,000.

Dr. David E. Newman-Toker, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins and the study’s lead author, noted that “diagnostic errors are the most common, the most costly and the most deadly of all medical errors.”  He added that: “Overall, diagnostic errors have been underappreciated and under-recognized because they’re difficult to measure and keep track of owing to the frequent gap between the time the error occurs and when it’s detected.”

Estimates suggest that forty to eighty thousand deaths occur each year in the United States from misdiagnosis. Autopsy studies suggest that between ten and twenty percent of deaths are from undiagnosed causes, about half of which could have been treated while the person was alive.

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