Misdiagnosis can lead to harm since a failure to properly diagnosis an illness or injury can lead to a delay in needed treatment.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released a publication designed to draw attention to the issue of diagnostic errors within the medical field in the United States. The piece follows previous publications in the Quality Chasm Series, including To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which focused on human errors that impact medical care. This series is provided by the IOM in an attempt to improve the quality of health care in the U.S.
The most recent publication, Improving Diagnosis in Health Care, focuses on addressing inaccurate or delayed medical diagnosis.
Findings of the IOM: Everyone will experience a medical misdiagnosis
The IOM Committee on Diagnostic Error in Health Care concludes that “most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.” The committee also notes that these “[e]rrors can be harmful because they can prevent or delay appropriate treatment, lead to unnecessary or harmful treatment, or result in psychological or financial repercussions.”
The committee defined a diagnostic error as:
the failure to (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or (b) communicate that explanation to the patient
It is noted that the term “timely” refers to a meaningful delay. However, whether or not this term is met depends on the circumstances. An urgent diagnosis, for example, may take minutes while others may take days or even months. The authors also note that the use of communication within the definition of a diagnosis error is unique. The committee clarifies that without sufficient communication to the patient, a diagnosis, no matter how accurate, is meaningless.
A failure to communicate or a miscommunication among health care professionals is often a contributing factor to misdiagnosis. This can occur in a number of ways. One example involves the process of gathering a patient’s history and searching for clues and symptoms that aid in diagnosis. A failure to properly appreciate significant elements can lead to a missed diagnosis. The example provided involved symptoms of thigh pain, swelling and red streaking on the patient’s skin along with shortness of breath, chest pains and a rapid heart rate. The patient was diagnosed with an asthma flare when it turned out the patient was actually suffering from a pulmonary thromboembolism. Failure to recognize these symptoms resulted in a lack of proper medical care. The patient ultimately died as a result. A separate example involves a failure to properly communicate x-ray findings leading to a delayed diagnosis of cancer.
Justice for victims: Misdiagnosis and medical malpractice
These are just a few examples of how a misdiagnosis can occur. Depending on the details of each unique case a medical malpractice claim may exist. Medical malpractice claims provide a route to justice for victims, as victims can pursue these claims and hold those responsible for their injuries accountable for their actions. As a result, those who believe that they are the victims of a misdiagnosis may wish to seek the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to discuss their legal options.