According to findings published in LiveScience, failure to diagnose is the number one cause of medical malpractice suits, accounting for 26 to 63 percent of all claims. The second most common cause of malpractice lawsuits is medication errors, such as adverse drug reactions and prescription errors. Researchers emphasize that individuals should not confuse malpractice suits with medical errors, which make up the vast majority of malpractice claims in Washington and throughout the United States.
The study sought to identify the most common causes of malpractice claims and what doctors can do to prevent adverse events from happening. The medical director at The Doctors Company, the largest medical malpractice insurance company in the nation, cited heart attacks in women as one of the most commonly misdiagnosed events. Women are much less likely to exhibit typical symptoms of heart attack than men. For instance, instead of chest and arm pain, women may complain of gastrointestinal problems.
The other most commonly missed diseases, according to the claims the study reviewed, were meningitis in children and cancer in adults. Breast, melanoma, colon and lung cancers were the most commonly missed diseases in adults. The outcome for many misdiagnosis victims was death.
FindLaw backs the study's findings, claiming that a delay in diagnosis or worse, failure to diagnose, often results in disease progression above and beyond what would have resulted had the doctor diagnosed the condition in a timely manner. Unfortunately, most doctors establish and act upon a "differential diagnosis." This way of thinking requires medical professionals to make a list of differing diagnoses, in descending order of likelihood, based on the patient's symptoms. While somewhat effective, this methodology leaves little room to explore less-likely but still probable causes.
For a patient to have a malpractice claim, a patient must prove that a reasonably cautious doctor, in a comparable situation, would have made the diagnosis. For instance, if any other doctor, given the same information, would have listed the patient's accurate diagnosis on his or her list, but the attending physician did not, the patient may be able to sue for malpractice. Likewise, if the physician listed the diagnosis but failed to order additional tests, the patient may have a claim.