Medical Diagnostic Mistakes Harm 160,000 Annually

Diagnostic mistakes by doctors are more common than people think, resulting in permanent injury or death for up to 160,000 patients per year, according to a recently published study by Johns Hopkins University.

Among other things, researchers at the renowned school examined more than 350,000 medical malpractice claims filed over a period of 25 years. They concluded that diagnostic errors accounted for nearly 29 percent of claims, which exceeded the percentage of claims related to incorrect treatment, botched surgery or improper medication.

Diagnostic errors also accounted for more than 35 percent of payments made on malpractice claims, resulting in death in more than 40 percent of claims, but researchers found roughly equal numbers of lethal and non-lethal mistakes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins Professor of Neurology David Newman-Toker, a lead author of the study, asserted that a prior estimate of 80,000 hospital deaths and injuries per year associated with diagnostic errors was clearly understated.

The professor also called for more “monitoring and measuring” of diagnostic efficacy in the practice of medicine, noting that hospitals already report on quality measures related to specific procedures, such as cardiac bypass surgery, and could just as well design programs to measure the effectiveness of diagnostics.

In fact, some leading-edge medical care facilities are already using technology and past data to improve the quality of diagnostics. For instance, according to a PR Newswire press release, IBM recently announced that it has partnered with the reputable Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

and WellPoint, Inc. (a health benefits insurer and provider) to train the IBM computer “Watson” in the areas of oncology and medical utilization management so that Watson can assist doctors in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Already, Watson has absorbed more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence relevant to oncology diagnostics and treatment, as well as 2 million pages of oncology-related text from 42 medical journals. Watson has also absorbed more than 1,500 case files pertinent to lung cancer patients, and is in the process of “learning” to read and apply data from doctors’ notes, patient records, genetic records, and clinical feedback.

Soon, Dr. Watson will be the smartest doctor on the planet, and the good people at Sloan-Kettering see him not as a threat, but an ally in meeting the growing and increasingly complex demands for medical care.

Of course, a diagnosis can evolve during the course of treatment as symptoms change, and nobody is claiming that a doctor must be a crystal ball prophet. But state of the art medicine is demonstrating that outcomes can be improved with better use of electronic records, software, and databases for diagnosis and treatment.

If you think that you or a loved one has been adversely affected by an incorrect or missed diagnosis, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (312) 477-2500 to speak with a qualified medical malpractice attorney who can advise you about both well-known and underpublicized diagnostic issues while providing you with counsel regarding protection and vindication of your rights. You can also check out our Website for more information about our law firm, Cogan & Power, P.C.