As a doctor, you certainly hope you will never make a critical mistake that will endanger the life of one of your patients. Depending on the specialty you practice, you may be more vulnerable to malpractice claims than others in your profession. When a mistake occurs, you may expect to do a careful review of the procedure to find out exactly where in the process the breakdown happened so that you can prevent such an error again.

However, recent analysis of malpractice lawsuits from the past four years shows that the breakdowns often happen very early in the process. In fact, diagnostic errors make up the highest percentage of medical malpractice claims.

Where do most mistakes happen?

The data shows that other areas of malpractice once ranking high on the list, such as surgical errors, infections and procedural mistakes, are dropping in frequency. Diagnostic errors remain high. In fact, 33 percent of the malpractice claims reviewed for the study involved mistakes in diagnosis. Surgical mistakes came in a distant second. Your patient may receive an incorrect diagnosis if any of the follow occurs:

  • You neglect to take an accurate patient history.
  • You fail to order appropriate screenings for your patient’s age or family history.
  • You misinterpret the results of lab tests, especially radiological tests.
  • Mistakes occur during the testing of patient samples in the lab.

In fact, lab mistakes comprised more than half of the indemnities malpractice insurance paid during the time of the study.

What can be done?

While the medical community is making great strides to address the spread of infection and the frequency of procedural blunders that leave patients ill, injured or worse, little has changed to assist doctors like you in improving the process of diagnosing illnesses. A missed or incorrect diagnosis of cancer or other critical disease may cost the life of a patient, and you and other diagnosticians are among those who want most to avoid that consequence.

The authors of the study suggest several ways to address the problem of missed diagnoses, including using more-thorough checklists when collecting patient histories and investing in cutting-edge technology to ensure you order appropriate tests for your patients. Meanwhile, though avoiding diagnostic errors is the primary goal, you will certainly benefit from having an experienced Iowa legal advocate for support in the event you face accusations of medical malpractice.