Diagnostic errors: By the numbers

On Behalf of | May 6, 2020 | Medical malpractice

A recent study of medical malpractice claims by an insurance company carries an understated title: “Room for Improvement.” Yes, there is undoubtedly a lot of room in which doctors, nurses and hospitals in Georgia (and across the U.S.) can improve patient safety in matters such as medication errors, wrong-site surgeries, birth injuries, wrong diagnosis and more.

In fact, the study concludes, diagnosis-related failures are the largest cause of medical malpractice claims.

Major malpractice causes

According to medical malpractice insurer Coverys, 33 percent of all medical malpractice claims include diagnostic errors. Here are the other major causes of claims:

  • 24 percent: surgical or procedural errors
  • 14 percent: medical management
  • 9 percent: medication-related
  • 4 percent: obstetrics-related
  • 4 percent: patient environment/safety
  • 3 percent: patient monitoring
  • 2 percent: anesthesia-related

Researchers also found that 53 percent of all diagnostic error-related claims “include risk management issues involving poor clinical decision-making.” Fifty-four percent of the diagnosis-related “claims are high severity cases, and 36 percent result in death.” Thirty-six percent of the “claims stem from outpatient (office setting) locations.”

Breaking diagnosis errors down

Because diagnosis errors are the leading cause of medical malpractice claims, the insurer dove deeper into the factors involved in those mistakes, finding that a third of diagnosis-related claims involve mistakes made when medical personnel make records of a patient’s history and perform a physical and make initial evaluations. Other contributing factors include the following:

  • 22 percent: ordering diagnostic or lab tests
  • 22 percent: interpretation of test results
  • 9 percent: referral management
  • 5 percent: doctor follow-up with patient
  • 4 percent: receipt/transmittal of test results
  • 3 percent: performance of tests

Types of providers

The researchers also looked at which types of doctors are most often the focus of medical malpractice lawsuits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, general practitioners top the list at 24 percent. The other providers are as follows:

  • 19 percent: doctors in hospitals
  • 14 percent: radiology
  • 11 percent: medical subspecialties
  • 11 percent: emergency room physicians
  • 9 percent: surgeons
  • 3 percent: OB-GYN
  • 2 percent: pediatrics
  • 2 percent: pathology
  • 2 percent: advanced practice providers
  • 1 percent: EENT (eye, ear, nose and throat), psychiatry, other

The study also found that 27 percent of medical malpractice claims related to diagnostic errors occurred in patients with cancer. Other illnesses and injuries are:

  • 13 percent: infections
  • 8 percent: cardiac/vascular
  • 5 percent: fractures/dislocations
  • 4 percent: myocardial infarction

Let’s hope that this study and past research like it will provide information medical professionals can use to improve the health and safety of patients not only in Georgia, but across the nation and around the world.