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Medical malpractice numbers fueled by diagnostic errors

Despite progressions in technology and health care, patients in California are still at an alarmingly high risk of falling victim to a serious error -- misdiagnosis. According to one study, the vast majority of people in America will have an illness or disease misdiagnosed at least once in their lifetime. This type of negligent medical malpractice is not unavoidable, and yet patients continue to receive completely wrong diagnoses on a regular basis.

Even as other types of errors and malpractice have declined in the past 15 years, researchers found that diagnostic errors remained stubbornly constant. Diagnostic errors typically refer to situations in which a patient did not receive an accurate or timely explanation for his or her symptoms or condition. Since time can be an enormous factor in the overall success of many different treatments, a significant delay in a diagnosis typically still constitutes a diagnostic error even if the patient eventually was given the correct prognosis.

There may be no quick and easy fix to address the continued issue of missed or wrong diagnoses, but researchers do have some suggestions. One involves better transparency in the health care system, including making it easier for doctors to admit and disclose these types of mistakes. Another suggested change focuses on the communication and teamwork between primary care doctors, technicians and specialists in order to ensure that all information has been fully communicated.

It is tragic that the environment for health care workers is not conducive to admitting when an error has occurred, especially since the earlier that a patient discovers he or she has been misdiagnosed, the quicker the proper diagnosis can be discovered. Until such a time, California patients still face the risk of going without treatment because of a missed diagnosis. For now, one of the best approaches to improving patient safety is for victims to pursue a medical malpractice claim against those believed responsible for any errors.

Source: medicalxpress.com, "Reseracher pinpoints diagnostic errors as the critical blind spot of health-care providers", Beth Duff-Brown, Oct. 7, 2015

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