Obtaining the right diagnosis is of the utmost importance for those who are concerned about their current medical conditions. The underlying cause of their symptoms will determine what kind of treatment might help to not only alleviate their symptoms but – potentially – to permanently resolve them.
Patients may need an accurate diagnosis or at least a working hypothesis to get a referral to a specialist who will be able to provide additional testing or specialized treatment for their symptoms. Seeing a doctor at an urgent care facility or making an appointment with a primary care physician is usually the first step toward securing a diagnosis. Unfortunately, one of the most common ways that doctors fail their patients involves diagnostic mistakes or failing to diagnose their patients altogether.
How often do diagnostic errors occur?
It is hard for researchers to establish exactly how many diagnostic errors occur each year because many professionals do their best to gloss over their mistakes. Other times, they may not even know that they made a mistake, as the medical error may only ever turn up in someone’s autopsy.
However, based on a review of medical records, including autopsies, researchers estimate at least 12 million significant diagnostic failures occur in the United States every year. Of those mistakes, between 40,000 and 80,000 of them will have fatal consequences for the patients involved. Medical malpractice is one of the leading causes of death among adults in the United States, and both incorrect diagnosis and failure to diagnose contribute to those tragic statistics.
How to take action after a diagnostic failure
The first step for someone pursuing a medical malpractice claim is usually to obtain copies of the relevant medical records. The second step typically involves discussing the situation with an attorney and possibly also with a different medical professional to determine whether someone significantly deviated from best practices in their diagnostic effort.
If other reasonable doctors would have provided additional testing or reached a different conclusion, a patient who went undiagnosed or a family that lost a loved one may have grounds to take action against the physician or facility. Pursuing a medical malpractice claim with the assistance of a legal professional may lead to significant compensation for those who have been affected by a diagnostic mistake.