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Diagnostic errors continue to rise

If going to the hospital for surgery fills you with fear, you are not alone. Patients in Georgia and beyond often cite losing control of the situation while under anesthesia as a primary cause for concern. Many people had a fear of the uncertainty that accompanies going under the knife long before news reports began to reveal how frequently surgical errors lead to the injury and death of patients.

New reports from malpractice insurance providers show that surgical errors may no longer be the leading type of medical mistakes. This may sound like good news. However, you may not feel relieved when you learn that although the rate of malpractice claims for other causes, such as procedural and medication errors, is on the decline, one area of medical practice shows a disturbing increase in claims based on mistakes.

The most vulnerable part of medical practice

When you go to your general practitioner or a specialist with symptoms that concern you, the quality of your care from that point forward depends on the diagnosis of that medical professional. Unfortunately, the failure to correctly diagnose is now the leading reason why patients file lawsuits against their doctors. Nearly one third of the cases brought to one medical liability insurance company involved diagnostic errors.

Despite nearly 20 years of urging from researchers into the causes of medical malpractice, little has been done to improve the diagnostic methods many doctors use. These methods often leave your doctor solely responsible for making a critical, perhaps life-and-death interpretation of your symptoms and test results. Research shows these areas of vulnerability in the diagnostic chain:

  • Failing to obtain a thorough family or medical history
  • Ignoring critical elements of your medical history
  • Rushing or omitting a physical exam
  • Failing to order essential screenings for your age or genetics
  • Misinterpreting your lab results

Your doctor may not be entirely to blame, however. Studies show that more than half of the diagnostic errors were based on faulty lab work. For example, your doctor may have missed a cancer diagnosis because your lab work came back negative due to a mistake by a lab technician.

Authors of the report make numerous recommendations for improving the systems medical facilities use during the diagnostic stages of patient care. However, as long as those new systems are not in place, you are at risk for a mistaken diagnosis that could leave you suffering. You can be proactive by insisting on open communication from your doctor, and you can seek remedies through legal means if you suffer harm from a mistaken diagnosis.

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