We know that misdiagnosis occurs in family practice offices in Illinois, but before this year there were no comprehensive studies done to determine how often misdiagnosis occurs in a typical family practice in the United States. Recently an article was published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealing that in 190 cases in a family practice setting, a total of 68 unique diagnoses were missed.
In the study, researchers reviewed medical records of 190 occasions of diagnostic error. These were errors that happened between October 1, 2006-September 30, 2007. They were detected in two settings. The first setting was a large urban Veteran Affairs facility with 35 primary care providers. The second setting was a large private health care system with thirty-four family medicine primary care providers. The goal of the study was to determine what potential contributory factors can lead to misdiagnosis.
Researchers found that pneumonia, decompensated congestive heart failure, acute renal failure, cancer, and urinary tract infections were the most commonly missed diagnoses. Just under 79% of the misdiagnoses were related to “process breakdowns” in the encounter between patient and practitioner in the clinical setting, meaning there were many communications breakdowns. In 80% of the missed diagnoses, the doctors involved did not consider all possibilities and prioritize them appropriately, thereby missing the correct diagnosis.
The system of considering all possibilities and prioritizing them is called “differential diagnosis”. A physician is supposed to make a list of possible diagnoses in order of their probability in a specific case. The physician tests the likelihood of these diagnoses by making more observations, asking detailed questions, ordering tests, or sending the patient to a specialist. The JAMA study discussed above shows that many doctors are not using a proper differential diagnosis method for common illnesses.
In related commentary, doctors noted that only about 1% of adverse events such as misdiagnosis in a primary care settings result in a malpractice claim. Not all misdiagnoses by doctors count as medical malpractice. Three elements must be proven under Illinois law to prevail on a medical malpractice claim: (1) A doctor-patient relationship existed, (2) the doctor did not follow the standard of care, (3) the doctor’s failure to follow the standard of care (negligence) caused actual injury to the patient.
However, misdiagnosis can be a very serious problem. When a patient seeks out the help of a physician, the patient assumes the physician will take the necessary steps to determine why they are experiencing symptoms. A misdiagnosis can result in the wrong medications or the wrong procedures, delay the correct treatments, and sometimes lead to serious or fatal injuries.
In a medical malpractice case involving misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, a patient’s lawyer must show that a doctor in the same or related specialty would not have misdiagnosed the patient’s illness or condition under the same circumstances. This can mean either that the doctor didn’t put the correct diagnosis on the list to begin with or else put it on the list but did not investigate whether it was actually the correct diagnosis or not.
If you have been injured due to misdiagnosis by a doctor, you should consult an attorney with experience in medical malpractice as soon as possible. There are strict statutory time limits within which to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Give the hardworking attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C. a call at (312) 924-7575 to discuss your rights. Our caring Chicago personal injury lawyers are available 24 hours per day, seven days of the week to help you file your case. For a free consultation with a capable advocate, please contact Abels & Annes, P.C. through the law firm’s website.
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