While we most often hear about the dramatic cases of medical malpractice wherein a surgeon accidentally leaves behind an implement or an anesthesiologist doesn’t properly monitor a young child during an operation, some of the more common mistakes stem from the diagnostic process.
Of course, these cases tend to be less dramatic and therefore not always so headline-worthy, but the ultimate outcome is often no less harmful. What’s worse, they are usually tougher to pinpoint. In some situation, a diagnostic error can result in serious, permanent injuries, disabling illnesses and even death.
The Louisville injury attorneys at The Shelton Law Group are committed to representing those who suffer as a result of a negligent diagnostic error. Let’s start first by explaining that a diagnostic error is any diagnosis that is wrong, missed or improperly delayed. In some cases, a diagnostic error may involve a missed opportunity or breakdown in the diagnostic process.
How common are diagnostic errors in Kentucky hospitals?
Medicine, like most sciences, does require some degree of trial-and-error, and doctors aren’t expected to have a clairvoyant sense of what is wrong with each and every patient. However, there are cases when clear indicators are missed, tests that should be ordered are skipped or results overlooked or there may be just a general lack of due diligence.
The National Patient Safety Foundation notes that diagnostic errors occur in about 5 to 15 percent of all cases. That’s a rough estimate, however, because not every case of diagnostic error is recorded. Researchers can cull data from autopsies, physician self-reports, patient self-reports, certain facility databases, peer-reviewed journal studies and medical malpractice claims information. However, there will inevitably be cases that slip through the cracks, so it’s fairly safe to assert that the percentage is higher than what the study insinuates.
One example of how a diagnostic error can impact a person’s life involved a 43-year-old Kentucky veteran who was wrongly diagnosed with HIV nine years ago. Throughout the time he believed he was HIV-positive, he slept only with HIV-positive sexual partners, took powerful (and as it turned out, unnecessary) HIV drugs that harmed his health and at times was even suicidal. The truth was only revealed when the Veteran’s Health Administration denied his claim for disability benefits after a confirmatory test revealed he was not, in fact, HIV positive. He has since filed a lawsuit against his doctors and the hospital where he received treatment.
A Harvard study in 1991 indicated that diagnostic errors account for a whopping 17 percent of all adverse medical events. In medical malpractice claims involving death, a 2010 study by Physician Insurer found that nearly one-third of all claims arise from an error in diagnosis.
There is no question that health care providers are negligent in a large majority of these cases. However, there are ways in which patients can help improve their chances of avoiding victimization by a diagnostic error. The NPSF recommends:
- Being clear, complete and accurate when telling your health care providers about your illness.
- Being an informed consumer by knowing about the tests or procedures you are having done, knowing the name of your medication and its effects and what it’s for, knowing the dosage of your medication and being aware of any food or drug interactions with your current regimen.
- Keeping good records. Keep an up-to-date list of your medications, your test results, hospital admissions, referrals, doctor’s appointments, etc.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or health care provider what else may be causing your symptoms. Press for your provider to consider other possibilities.
Contact the Shelton Law Group in Louisville at 888-761-7204 for a free case evaluation.