The Cook & Tolley Blog

Misdiagnosis frequent with serious conditions

Accurate diagnosis is vital for treating disease. But one in 10 people with dangerous symptoms from cancers, infections or major vascular events, are misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late. Recent findings revealed that 53.9 percent of these patients will die or have a permanent disability from this medical malpractice.

This report was prepared by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine and contained in the publication, Diagnosis. Data also revealed that diagnostic rates did not noticeably drop over the last several decades. For some diseases, these may be rising.

Spinal abscess was the most misdiagnosed disease among the 9.6 percent of patients who were misdiagnosed with one of the top 15 conditions in the big three disease category of cancer, infections and vascular events. Spinal abscess, an infection that can compress the spinal cord and cause paraplegia, was missed 62.1 percent of the time.

Diseases associated with cancer that are missed the most have the least successful diagnostic screening programs. Prostate cancer had the lowest misdiagnosis and harm rates 2.4 and 1.2 percent, and the highest screening in this country. Lung cancer has screening rates below recommended levels but the highest misdiagnosis and error-harm rates, 22.5 and 13.8 percent.

More uncommon diseases are likely to be missed and have higher error-harm rates for infections and major vascular events. These are endocarditis, 25.5 and 13.4 percent, meningitis and encephalitis, 25.6 and 14.3 percent, aortic aneurysm and dissection, 27.9 and 16.8 percent and spinal abscess, 62.1 and 35.6 percent.

Other alarming findings included rates for missed diagnosis for stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage and aortic aneurysm rupture rose from 2007 to 2014. Strokes have diagnostic error rates that are five to 10 times higher than heart attacks even though both occur with frequency.

Low investment contributes to this problem. Approximately $7 million is spent each year on researching diagnostic errors compared to $10 million spent each year on research on smallpox which was eliminated 50 years ago.

Insufficient time spent by doctors for determining the severity of patient ailment is another cause. This is compounded if the physician is unfamiliar with a new patient. Other causes include bad follow-up by patients and providers and practitioners who do not communicate their findings when patients visit different doctors.

The medical malpractice attorneys at Cook & Tolley, LLP, can help pursue compensation if you or your loved one has been harmed by misdiagnosis.  We look forward to speaking with you.

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