Misdiagnosis Lawsuits Account for 35% of Malpractice Payments: Report

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By: Austin Kirk | Published: May 1st, 2013

According to the findings of a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, medical misdiagnosis lawsuits account for more insurance malpractice payments than any other type of complaint.

A report published by the British Medical Journal’s Quality and Safety journal last week indicates that claims involving a failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis of a medical condition account for more than one-third of all payments made over a period of more than 25 years.

Researchers examined data from more than 350,000 medical malpractice lawsuit claims that resulted in payments to the plaintiff between 1986 and 2010. The total of those payments added up to $38.8 billion after adjusting for inflation. Misdiagnosis lawsuits represented 28.6% of all claims that resulted in payments, and accounted for 35.2% of the money paid, the largest portion.

The findings suggest that those numbers appear to be for a good reason, as medical misdiagnosis claims were more likely than any other type of malpractice lawsuit to involve the death of the patient, and were also more likely to result in disability.

“Among malpractice claims, diagnostic errors appear to be the most common, most costly and most dangerous of medical mistakes,” the researchers concluded. “We found roughly equal numbers of lethal and non-lethal errors in our analysis, suggesting that the public health burden of diagnostic errors could be twice that previously estimated. Healthcare stakeholders should consider diagnostic safety a critical health policy issue.”

The report comes a little more than two months after a medical misdiagnosis study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which reported that most cases of diagnostic errors during primary care treatment could lead to moderate to severe harm for patients.

Researchers in that study found that the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions were some of the most serious, including pneumonia, congestive heart failure, acute kidney failure, cancer and urinary tract infections.

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