Medical Negligence: Diagnostic Errors


| Jim Coogan

What Is A Diagnostic Error?

Medical Care Requires an Accurate Diagnosis for Treatment

Medical treatment begins with diagnosing the cause of the problem.

“Where does it Hurt?”

Studies have shown that there are over 440,000 fatal medical errors that occur each year in the United States. Often, the problem begins right from the beginning. This is because the course of proper medical care always begins with a diagnosis. Doctors and nurses must ask the right questions and make correct observations from the start before they can begin the proper treatment–indeed, good medical care requires a good diagnosis.

An example: if someone complains of knee pain, they see a type of doctor that treats the joints, an “orthopedic surgeon.” Orthopedic surgeons perform surgical procedures, fix fractures, and replace joints. The first thing the doctor will do is ask what the patient is feeling and then examine the knee. They may also move the joint around and observe any limitations. Often, they order an X-ray. X-rays use radiation to see through the skin and soft tissues and detect abnormalities in the bones and other larger structures.

With the benefit of the examination and an x-ray, a good orthopedic surgeon can decide whether they can diagnose the problem or if more tests are needed. But without asking the right questions, they cannot know if there might be a fracture or damage to cartilage, or even a muscle pull. The doctor cannot prescribe physical therapy if it turned out the patient actually had a tumor in their leg.

Medical Insurers Focus on Diagnostic Errors

In the United States, Medical care is a business. Thus, hospitals and doctors obtain insurance protection for when a claim is made against them for care that fell below medical standards. Thus, insurers focus on the origin of medical errors to get to the root cause for money awards to patients. According to a 2014-2018 study, “diagnostic errors” had the second-highest average payout compared to other types of cases. The same study revealed that diagnostic cases cumulative payout was largest. The study went on to discuss the importance of ordering the right tests in the diagnostic process. Some of these were the product of the doctor not following-up with the patient about results.

What Can Patients Do?

Medical problems often get worse over time, especially without treatment (even more likely with the wrong treatment). This places even more emphasis on starting down the right path right from the start. As a patient, it is your responsibility to be clear with your doctor. Answer all their questions. Tell them about your experiences. Be measured and patient to make sure the doctor understood you. Doctors work under stressful conditions. And the business of medicine demands that they treat high numbers of patients quickly.

Do not be afraid to ask questions to confirm that the doctor understood your concerns and the symptoms you experience. The old phrase “you only get one chance to make a first impression” holds true here. You can also write down your symptoms, medicines, timeline, and questions before seeing the doctor. That way, you will know what you told them. It is easy to forget something important in the rush of a doctor visit.

And if you are not getting your questions answered, and you experience a problem, you can also consult a lawyer. The lawyers at Coogan Gallagher have devoted their time to learning about medical practice. They know the questions to ask you and will understand how your treatment likely went. If you experience an injury after medical treatment, you have the right to get a “second opinion” from a lawyer just like you have the right to a medical second opinion.

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      Life has many surprises, some of which are not pleasant and many time almost tragic. My 95 year-old Mother and I were involved in a very serious car accident, in which my car was totaled. We were ambulanced to the hospital in serious condition. Life also presents us with many important decisions, which could be life altering. I contacted Jim Coogan…

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      Life has many surprises, some of which are not pleasant and many time almost tragic. My 95 year-old Mother and I were involved in a very serious car accident, in which my car was totaled. We were ambulanced to the hospital in serious condition. Life also presents us with many important decisions, which could be life altering. I contacted Jim Coogan…

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