When doctors make mistakes, the consequences can be deadly. And costly.
Medical malpractice lawsuits can hit physicians, hospitals and insurance
companies hard, right in the wallet. In order to avoid those painful costs,
some health care professionals are adopting new methods to help cut down
on the leading cause of malpractice suits: diagnostic errors.

The Wall Street Journal reports that doctors and hospitals are scrutinizing
diagnostic errors, which are the mistakes in treatment of patients that
too often lead to incorrect, missed or postponed diagnoses.

Most Common Cause of Malpractice

Research shows diagnostic errors are the most common cause of medical malpractice,
accounting for up to 40 percent of the cases, and costing insurance companies
an average of $300,000 each to settle with victims.

The Journal reports that patient-safety research at Johns Hopkins University
estimates 40,000 to 80,000 patients in U.S. hospitals are killed each
year by diagnostic errors.

Studies show that diagnostic errors are often compound mistakes with at
least three missteps by health care providers that lead to a delayed,
missed or mistaken diagnosis.

Ways to Reduce Errors

Reducing diagnostic mistakes will require hospitals, doctors, nurses and
others to focus on reducing system errors. That can be relatively simple
in some cases: doctors can develop checklists to help recognize the warnings
of high-risk abdominal pain and low-risk abdominal pain.

Another way of reducing system error is for hospitals to focus on preventing
lab results from being lost and information not being shared between doctors
and specialists.

Robert Hanscom, a vice president with medical malpractice insurer Crico/RMF,
says diagnostic errors appear to be rising. Primary care physicians are
often under strain with high caseloads, too often taking shortcuts, not
listening carefully to their patients and ignoring patient symptoms.

The Damage Done by Wrong Diagnoses

The results of diagnostic errors can be devastating. Cancer can be overlooked
by a physician who assumes a persistent cough is nothing more than a respiratory
infection or that a lump on the chest is an unserious cyst (the most commonly
missed or delayed diagnosis involves breast cancer).

A delayed diagnosis can mean that a patient will have to endure more extensive,
often painful and expensive treatments than they would have undergone
if the diagnosis had been timely. A postponed or missed diagnosis can
also mean the difference between life and death, in some cases.

Compensation for Malpractice Victims

If you believe you’ve been harmed by a diagnostic error, or you have
lost a loved one to a preventable medical mistake, contact a Cleveland,
Ohio, medical malpractice attorney for an evaluation of the case. A medical
malpractice lawyer pursues full, fair compensation for medical expenses,
loss of income and pain and suffering.