Diagnostic errors costly: Medical malpractice claims in Canada vs. United States

by John McKiggan

Misdiagnosis a common cause of malpractice claims

According to a recent study in the Journal BMJ Quality & Safety, diagnostic errors (medical misdiagnosis) are the biggest cause of medical malpractice payouts in the United States.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reviewed a 25 year data base of malpractice claims compiled by the NatioPractitioneroner Database. The database contained details of 350,706 medical malpractice claims between 1986 and 2010.The study also measured the frequency, severity and costs of different medical malpractice occurrences.

Errors in diagnosis (misdiagnosis) made up approximately 28.6 percent of paid medical claims. This was the highest of any of the areas of medical malpractice identified.

Other causes of malpractice

The study found that the following causes of injury occurred in the corresponding amounts:

• Other causes of injury related to treatment: 27.2%

• Surgery: 24.2%

• Obstetrics (birth injuries): 6.5%

• Medication errors: 5.3%

• Anesthesia: 3%

Deadly mistakes

Interestingly, and perhaps worryingly, the most frequent type of malpractice leading to death was also diagnostic error at 40.9 percent.

Breaking down the ‘diagnostic error’ label even further, the study found that failure to diagnose was the most common diagnostic error at 54.2 percent. The remainder was made up of delay in diagnosis, at 19.9 percent, and improper diagnosis, at 9.9 percent.

Diagnostic errors are more common than you think

As a medical malpractice lawyer in Nova Scotia, I can certainly say my experience reflects the findings from the study. While surgical and birth injuries are comparatively rare, I most frequently encounter patients who have suffered injuries as a result of diagnostic errors on the part of doctors and other medical professionals.

As I have previously posted, approximately 7.5 percent of Canadian patients experience some form of diagnostic error. In this post from a few years ago I provide some advice on Patient Safety: 10 Tips to Prevent Diagnostic Errors

Want More Information?

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If you or a loved one have suffered injuries that you think may be due to medical malpractice you can buy a copy of my book: Health Scare – The Consumer’s Guide to Medical Malpractice Claims in Canada: Why 98% of Canadian Medical Malpractice Victims Never Receive a Penny in Compensation on Amazon.com.

The revised edition of the book contains a new chapter on the link between medical malpractice and birth injuries, and cerebral palsy claims caused by hypoxia and ischemia.

All proceeds from book sales go to charity.

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