Diagnostic Errors Are Top Reason for Malpractice Claims

A recent study has found that the most common cause of medical malpractice claims is diagnostic errors. Researchers used the National Practitioner Data Bank, a record of actions against health care professionals by state licensing bodies, to determine the percentage of claims accounted for by different types of medical errors. Diagnostic errors were the most common, at 28.6 percent of the total, and accounted for 35.2 percent of total payments.

The second most common type of mistake was errors related to treatment, and surgery errors were the third most common. All other types of errors combined, including medication, anesthesia, monitoring, obstetric errors and others, accounted for less than 20 percent of the total.

The study, which was published on the website of BMJ Quality and Safety, discovered over 100,000 payments for errors in diagnosis during the period from 1986 to 2010, out of a total of 350,706 paid claims analyzed. Diagnostic errors accounted for 33.8 percent of the cases involving disability and nearly 40 percent of the cases involving death. The study found more outpatient than inpatient diagnostic errors, but found that inpatient diagnostic mistakes were more likely to be lethal.

According to the researchers, diagnostic errors are a major health problem that all medical professionals, hospitals and insurers should be working together to address. The importance of a proper diagnosis is paramount, as the diagnosis determines the treatment.

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