Misdiagnoses, a form of medical malpractice, likely occur more often than you think.

When you visit your doctor, you expect that he or she will use the considerable years of medical training and experience to evaluate your condition and arrive at a correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. According to a report by BMJ Quality and Safety, misdiagnoses occur more often than you would think. The report found that at least one in 20 patients, or 12 million people, are misdiagnosed each year. Of those misdiagnosed, about half are put at risk of serious harm.

According to a report from the National Center on Policy Analysis, medical malpractice was the cause of the majority of misdiagnoses. In such cases, the doctor’s performance in diagnosing the condition did not meet the minimum standard of care established by law. Sadly, this means that most cases of misdiagnosis are avoidable.

Why do misdiagnoses occur?

Misdiagnoses happen for a variety of reasons. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, misdiagnoses can occur for a wide range of reasons such as:

• The physician’s failure to review the full medical history of the patient prior to making a diagnosis.

• The failure to order the correct diagnostic tests or misinterpreting their results.

• Not spending sufficient time with the patient. Studies have shown the risk of misdiagnosis goes up as the number of patients seen in a day increases.

• The patient’s failure to give the physician his or her full medical history.

• Sleep deprivation, especially in emergency room doctors.

This list is non-exhaustive; there are a myriad of factors that can affect a physician’s performance. However, anything that substantially affects the physician during the diagnostic process could potentially have serious consequences for the patient.

How can a misdiagnosis harm patients?

The effects of misdiagnoses on patients are wide-ranging. The fortunate patients are left uninjured, but in serious cases, the patient can experience serious adverse events. In some cases, the incorrect diagnosis means that the wrong treatment (or no treatment at all) is ordered, unnecessary surgery is performed or the wrong drug is prescribed. This can cause pain and suffering that is completely avoidable.

The delay in finding a correct diagnosis can especially jeopardize the prognosis of patients suffering from serious or terminal illnesses like cancer, as the condition can worsen, becoming harder to treat (or completely untreatable) by the time the error is discovered.

What to do if misdiagnosed

If you or a loved one suffers harm because a physician failed to arrive at a correct diagnosis, you may be eligible to seek compensation for your economic and noneconomic losses (e.g. pain and suffering) under New Jersey law. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at The Epstein Law Firm, P.A. can listen to your situation, investigate the circumstances surrounding the error and work to hold the negligent physicians responsible for their actions.