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Medical Malpractice – Misdiagnosis in the United States

November 20, 2014 by The Parrish Law Firm

Doctors in the United States misdiagnose approximately one out of every 20 adult patients they see in an outpatient setting; this equates to approximately 12 million patients a year. Roughly half of those misdiagnoses could cause severe harm. A team led by Dr. Hardeep Singh, a recent recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for his work in this area, examined three previous studies. These previous studies were also conducted by Singh’s team, where they looked for error triggers within two large health care systems. These triggers included unusual “return visit” patterns and those three studies “yielded a rate of outpatient diagnostic errors of 5.08%,” per the report.

“It is surprising—5%,” Singh said of the percent of cases where the initial diagnosis was wrong, but the information for a correct diagnosis was present. And one patient safety expert sees that figure as conservative. “I would say this is a minimum.” Experts tell Modern Healthcare that there are likely numerous reasons for the lapses, among them the way primary care is structured in the U.S. An American Cancer Society official points out that “Doctors just don’t have much time” because of “the pressure to move patients in and out,” noting physicians typically have just 10 minutes to arrive at their diagnosis. Doctors have a vested interest in somehow improving the current system: Misdiagnoses were the number one source of malpractice claim payouts from 1986 to 2010, according to a recent study.

U.S. health-care community can take steps to reduce the problem.

Improved communication between physicians and patients is critical. Patients tend to be the best source of information for making a diagnosis; however, often time’s doctor-patient interactions such as reviewing patient history and examinations are rushed, thus leading to poor decisions. As new forms of diagnostic and information technologies are put into place, managing these large amounts of data will become increasingly complex, and physicians could become even more vulnerable to misdiagnosis-type errors.

This problem largely exists because of extreme time pressures and monumental amounts of paperwork that force physicians to spend more time striving to be reimbursed for their services than spending crucial time talking with their patients. The extra hours spent pursuing a correct diagnosis are not compensated beyond the payment for the visit, which is an already small amount of money for a primary-care physician’s work.

We trust doctors with our health and our lives, we trust them with good reason as we have some of the best doctors in the world. However, even “the best of the best” can make mistakes. How can we determine if and when a doctor’s mistake becomes the grounds for a lawsuit? This article affords you a brief overview of medical malpractice law. (Taken from FindLaw http://injury.findlaw.com/medical-malpractice/medical-malpractice-overview.html)

Malpractice Defined

Medical malpractice is negligence committed by a medical professional. While many accidents occur in hospitals and in the practice of medicine in general, some of them could have been avoided. When a physician makes a preventable error that results in injury, the patient may file a medical malpractice suit for damages.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

For negligence to be “actionable” (having all the components necessary to constitute a viable cause of action — and thus a legitimate lawsuit), the following elements must exist:

  • There must be a duty owed to someone;
  • There must be a breach of that duty; and
  • The breach of that duty must result in harm or damage that is proximately caused by that breach.

“Proximate cause” is a legal term that, in the medical malpractice sense, essentially asks whether, “but for” the alleged negligence of the medical professional, the harm or injury to the patient would have occurred. If the injury still would have occurred regardless of the alleged act of malpractice, then there is no valid claim. See Elements of a Negligence Case for more details.

The Parrish Law Firm medical malpractice attorney works with northern Virginia citizens who have suffered from a health care provider’s misdiagnosis and are looking for fair compensation for their injuries. Contact us today for a free case consultation, or call us at 703-906-4229.

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A representative of the Parrish Law Firm, PLLC researched and wrote this article with Mr. Parrish’s consent. If you have any questions regarding the legal implications of what you have just read, please send us your question by clicking here so we can have our attorney review it.

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