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1 in 10 patients with ‘Big Three’ are misdiagnosed

Ohio residents should be aware of what are called the “Big Three” in the medical field: namely, cancers, vascular events and infections. These are the three conditions that are most likely to be misdiagnosed. A study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that nearly 1 in 10 patients who show symptoms of one of these three conditions are the victims of a diagnostic error.

In all, 15 conditions (five under each category) were analyzed. The cancers included lung cancer, breast cancer and melanoma. Vascular events included stroke and heart attack. Infections included pneumonia, meningitis and spinal abscesses. The rate of diagnostic errors naturally varied with each condition. For example, it was 2.2% for heart attack patients but 62.1% for spinal abscess patients.

Researchers estimated that 1 in 20 of those patients who are misdiagnosed are at risk of suffering serious harm. In fact, conditions that fell into the “Big 3” comprised nearly half of all malpractice cases involving serious harm.

What causes the misdiagnoses

Common causes of misdiagnosis included failure or delay in ordering a diagnostic test; failure to establish a differential diagnosis; failure to appreciate and recognize signs, symptoms and test results; failure or delay in obtaining consultation with a specialist; and misinterpretation of x-rays and other tests.

Proving Misdiagnosis

Medical malpractice claims involving misdiagnosis must be proven through expert testimony.  The testimony must establish that the misdiagnosis was a breach of the standard of care and that it caused injury to the plaintiff.  For example, our firm has been retained to handle cases in which a delay in the diagnosis of post-operative infections has caused overwhelming sepsis and death.  In such cases, expert testimony has been needed to prove that the standard of care required earlier diagnosis and that the delay in treatment caused the patient’s death.  This can be a very time consuming and costly process but it must be done to get to the heart of a misdiagnosis case.