Diagnostic mistakes hasten or cause the deaths of about 100,000 people in the United States each year. The reasons are many: Emergency rooms are understaffed, doctors are working hours that are far too long, patient histories don’t get properly taken and so on.
But some conditions are far more likely to be missed than others — with devastating results. According to a new John Hopkins study, about 75% of all diagnostic mistakes involve just three conditions: cancer, vascular events and infections.
Cancer, in particular, is often overlooked. In almost 38% of the cases studied where a misdiagnosis led to permanent disability or death, cancer was the overlooked culprit. Vascular events, such as strokes and brain aneurysms were the second-most common, with sepsis (a type of blood infection) was a distant third.
Since cancer, vascular events and infections are “umbrella” terms with many different subcategories, researchers dug deeper and identified the 15 specific illnesses that are involved in almost half of the most serious diagnostic errors. They are:
- Lung cancer
- Skin cancer
- Breast cancer
- Heart attack
- Colorectal cancer
- Spinal infections
- Prostate cancer
- Aortic aneurysm
- Aortic dissection
- Venous thromboembolism
More than 85% of the time, these conditions were misdiagnosed or overlooked due to “failures of clinical judgment,” a euphemism that relates back to problems like poor decision-making, forgetting to rule out all possibilities for jumping to a diagnosis, not using diagnostic support tools, not involving specialists and ineffective teamwork. The research also pointed to a need for more patient involvement in the diagnostic process (meaning that doctors sometimes fail to listen).
If you or your loved one suffered serious harm due to a mistaken or delayed diagnosis related to one of these conditions, it’s wise to question if things could have been done differently. You cannot count on the hospital or doctor to own up to their mistakes. Find out how an attorney may be able to help.