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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Errors in Diagnosis, Lose the Case: Part II

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Yesterday I wrote about the problem of altered medical records and medical malpractice suits. Today I would like to touch on another type of medical error that is most commonly linked to medical malpractice suits. You might think that surgical mistakes, overdoses, or obstetric errors are the most common reasons for paid claims, but that isn't the case. Instead, errors in diagnoses make up 28.6% of malpractice payments.

Researchers of a study published in the BMJ Quality and Safety, looked at the National Practitioner Data Bank and found more than 100,000 payments for diagnostic errors bewteen 1986 and 2010. Overall, diagnostic errors accounted for 33.8% of disabilities and 40% of deaths. In total, that's an estimated 160,000 deaths or disabilities annually.

The lead study author, Dr. David E. Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, says that this is a major problem and that it is in urgent need of attention. He comments: "This is a major health problem. There is a lot of room for improvement. You can't get the treatment right if don't get the diagnosis right." The major causes of diagnostic errors include human error, lack of electronic medical records, not taking a proper medical history (e.g. the doctor didn't listen to the patient carefully or didn't bother to take a comprehensive history), or lack of follow-up.