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Study Reveals That Diagnostic Errors Are Common and Deadly

From a trip to the emergency department to a routine doctor's visit, every initial encounter with a doctor begins with a diagnosis. Today, doctors have a wealth of scientific and technological equipment at their disposal to aid in the diagnostic process. It's important to note, however, that doctors must still rely heavily upon their own experience, critical thinking and judgment when making a diagnosis.

There are several factors that may contribute to diagnostic-related mistakes including a patient who doesn't or isn't able to provide important health information, false laboratory results and a doctor's failure to explore other possibilities. When diagnostic errors occur, the results can be devastating and result in patients suffering harm, injury and even death.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed that approximately 35 percent of medical malpractice payouts relate to cases of diagnostic errors, accounting for $38.8 billion in payouts.

For the study, researchers examined "diagnosis-related claims from a national data bank from 1986 to 2010." In their findings, researchers discovered that not only were diagnostic errors most readily cited in successful medical malpractice claims, but such errors also frequently caused patients to suffer disability and death.

Diagnostic errors are a major problem in healthcare and one that hospitals, doctors, nurses and patients must take steps to prevent. For patients, it's wise to be vigilant when seeking medical care, to ask questions and, if necessary, seek a second opinion. For healthcare professionals, diagnostic errors are largely preventable and can avoided through improved communications and a thorough investigation of diagnostic possibilities.

Source: U.S. News and World Report, "'Misdiagnosis' Leading Cause of U.S. Malpractice Payouts: Study," Denise Mann, April 23, 2015

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