Many people associate medical malpractice with major surgical errors. However, a missed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis may prove just as fatal.
Recent research by the Center for Diagnostic Excellence at the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute has underscored the risks; in U.S. hospitals, misdiagnosis may account for between 40,000 and 80,000 deaths each year.
Certain conditions may be more prone to misdiagnosis
The study found that misdiagnosis may be a factor in as many as 80,000-160,000 cases that involve serious harm to patients each year. With over 10,000 potential diseases, finding a connection between common symptoms and the correct condition can be difficult. However, researchers identified three major conditions associated with an especially high rate of diagnostic error: vascular events, infections and cancer.
The “big three” conditions
The “big three” conditions seem to be responsible for nearly three out of every four cases where misdiagnosis led to serious patient harm.
Of the top issues associated with the diagnostic error, cancers made up roughly 37%, vascular issues 22% and infections 13% of cases where patients experienced permanent disability or death. Specific conditions among the top fifteen most misdiagnosed issues include:
- Sepsis, meningitis, encephalitis and spinal infection
- Stroke, aortic aneurysm, venous thromboembolism, heart attack and endocarditis
- Lung, prostate, breast and skin cancers
Clinical judgment failures may account for many misdiagnoses
The Johns Hopkins study found that, in over 85% of misdiagnosis cases, clinical providers were responsible for providing a faulty conclusion. From improving communication between general doctors and specialists to using technology to aid diagnosis, researchers hope that a renewed focus on common errors may help to prevent needless suffering on the part of future patients.