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Diagnostic errors are leading cause of medical malpractice

A study published this week in the journal BMG Quality and Safety may be unnerving for some Michigan residents. Johns Hopkins University researchers found that errors in diagnosis represent the most serious and common type of error made by doctors in the U.S. According to the study, as many as 160,000 patients die or are injured as a result of diagnostic errors each year.

A diagnostic error is generally defined as a missed, incorrect or delayed diagnosis. Johns Hopkins researchers reviewed 350,000 successful medical malpractice claims spanning 25 years, and learned that diagnostic errors made up about 29 percent of claims. In more than 40 percent of those cases, a patient died due to a missed, late or delayed diagnosis.

Although the study does not analyze why these errors are so common, the lead author of the study has suggested that one issue is that diagnostic errors are not consistently monitored or studied, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Other quality issues, such as surgery outcomes, are reported by hospitals, but there are no state or national reporting requirements when it comes to diagnostic errors.

Other researchers are currently working on this issue to learn how hospitals can best define and follow up on diagnostic errors in order to develop strategies to prevent them.

For now, diagnostic errors are somewhat common and they can be very costly and dangerous. Those who suffer harm to due to a misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis may wish to pursue a medical malpractice claim in order to recover compensation for their injuries and related costs.

Source: Washington Post, "Adding Up Diagnosis Errors," Laura Landro, April 22, 2013

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