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Study: diagnostic errors leading cause of malpractice lawsuits

Diagnostic errors such as delayed diagnoses or misdiagnoses are serious threats confronting patients. If the doctor does not immediately connect irregular skin moles with melanoma, for example, it can cause the patient to be at a disadvantage from a recovery standpoint when the correct diagnosis is ultimately made. However, such mistakes can also have outcomes that are more serious. For example, if a radiologist does not notice lesions on a mammogram, it can lead to a failure to diagnose cancer, which can have a fatal result.

A new study has found that over 25 percent of medical malpractice claims involve errors in the diagnosis of a condition. For the study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University reviewed over 350,000 malpractice claims from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which has kept records of malpractice claims for over 20 years. The researchers looked at malpractice records over a 25-year period.

Of the malpractice claims reviewed, researchers found that 28.6 percent were due to diagnostic errors. These errors represented about 35.2 percent of the payouts in the cases.

It was also found that diagnostic errors were responsible for more deaths and disabilities than other types of medical errors. In 41 percent of cases where there were diagnostic errors, the patient died, compared with 26 percent involving treatment errors and 39 percent involving medication errors.

Researchers also discovered that 68.8 percent of diagnostic errors occurred in outpatient care compared to 31.2 percent in inpatient care. However, the results showed that diagnostic errors during inpatient care were more likely to be fatal.


Overall, researchers found that diagnostic errors have a much greater effect on public health than was previously believed, because, unlike medical or surgical errors, they are not immediately evident. As a result, diagnostic errors receive less attention.

What causes diagnostic errors?

Recent research has found that a common cause of diagnostic errors is the tendency of the physician to make common types of cognitive errors such as:

  • Physicians allowing past experiences to bias their diagnosis of the current patient
  • Physicians relying on their initial diagnosis, even after being presented with evidence to the contrary
  • Physicians relying too heavily on test results or expert opinions when making a diagnosis

Consult an attorney

Under New York law, at a minimum, doctors must use a certain minimum standard of knowledge and skill when diagnosing their patients. Failure to perform to this standard constitutes medical malpractice. In many cases, a delayed or misdiagnosis often fails to meet the required minimum standard.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a missed or delayed diagnosis, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding your claim and work to hold the responsible parties accountable.

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