Why Doctors Must Spark Internal Discussion about Diagnostic Errors

by Terry Bryant

It is estimated that 40,000 to 80,000 deaths occur in the U.S. due to diagnostic error and that between 10% and 17% of all medical diagnoses are inaccurate, according to a report on diagnostic mistakes. This indicates that an alarmingly high number of patients experience a misdiagnosis or a delayed explanation of their illness. The problem is referred to as a “blind spot,” which the report – Improving Diagnosis in Health Care – says is found in virtually all healthcare settings. And a simple explanation of merely “bad doctors” doesn’t aptly describe this growing epidemic within the medical profession, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which authored the report.

It raises a worrisome question of whether diagnostic error is on the rise because of the increasing complexity in medicine. Doctors face ever-burdensome caseloads and administrative responsibilities. And the chances that they will likely miss something critical in correctly diagnosing patient conditions is all but a given. Medical professionals need to come up with measures that will help them make the right diagnoses, the report says, although without actually suggesting much.

Computers and artificial intelligence continue to offer doctors and diagnosticians better opportunities to capture and sift through information and hopefully make the right diagnosis. For that to happen, though, many doctors – especially some of the younger generation of MDs – are beginning to acknowledge that they must start talking more about their errors with their fellow physicians; they must share the lessons learned when they experience one, and be less fearful of admitting their shortcomings.  In short, according to one young doctor, they need to collaborate more!

But he laments that this solution is having a difficult time taking root. Doctors – like most professionals of any sort – don’t generally want to discuss their mistakes. This is a new dynamic for doctors who share a certain intellectual elitism due to their very station.  And the medical profession itself it seems like it would just as soon ignore diagnostic errors, viewing them as being a chronic problem. But whether they like it or not, doctors need to do something to address medical errors, because the elephant in the room is clearly visible. And its name is medical malpractice.

When Misdiagnosis becomes Malpractice in Texas

During the past 10 years or so, in the interests of “tort reform” that discourages frivolous lawsuits, the Texas Legislature has made medical malpractice even more difficult to prove, primarily because of pressure by the insurance lobby. Injured patients can still win misdiagnosis claims if they have strong cases supported by expensive expert testimony that proves the “thread of liability.”

  1. Claimants had a relationship with the doctor they sued. (Sometimes many doctors may be involved, either directly or on a consulting basis. It’s the plaintiff’s job to prove which is the culpable doctor. This can be difficult when doctors are less than forthcoming about their part in any diagnostic or treatment errors.)
  2. Once identified, plaintiffs must then prove the doctor acted negligently and not in a reasonably skillful or competent manner.
  3. Finally the plaintiff must prove that it was the doctor’s negligence that caused their injury.

When it comes to medical errors, failure to diagnose can be as devastating as misdiagnosis. Even though medical science (which many rightfully call the medical “arts”) will not be perfect in our lifetime, most diagnostic errors are preventable. We must find ways to reduce medical mistakes which lead to needless pain, suffering, and sometimes wrongful death.

Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law can help if you have been misdiagnosed or are the victim of a doctor’s failure to diagnose. Contact us online or call us at (800) 444-5000 if we can be of assistance.