Misdiagnosis is the Most Common Reason for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

A recent study by The Doctors Company found that misdiagnosis is the top allegation in medical malpractice lawsuits filed across the country that involve children. The researchers conducting the study said “misdiagnosis” included missed, failed or the wrong diagnosis and were largely the result of inadequate medical examinations, according to Fierce Healthcare. The study conducted by a non-profit doctors group involved reviewing over 1,200 medical malpractice lawsuits filed across the country through 2008 and 2017.

The report also illuminated several prominent trends in medical malpractice lawsuits. For example, poor communication was cited as a factor causing the child’s injury in 15 and 22 percent of the lawsuits. Systemic failures were also a common factor. Systemic failures typically meant not notifying patients of important test results, according to the online news agency.

The study’s author, Darrell Ranum, said, “Our research sheds light on the need to provide detailed explanations to parents or guardians regarding symptoms that should prompt immediate care when the child is sent home. It is also particularly important that physicians keep language and cultural barriers top of mind when providing these detailed explanations. All our recommendations are focused on advancing the practice of good medicine.”

Three-fourths of these suits were against pediatricians and the remaining fourth were against obstetricians. Brain injuries were the most common, which is perhaps unsurprising given the serious damage caused by brain injuries and expensive medical care likely to follow many victims for the remainder of their life.  The study also found that younger patients suffered more severe injuries and at higher rates. Brain injuries were cited by 48 percent of children under the age of one, 36 percent of children between the age of one and 13, and 11 percent of teenagers.

Given the importance of the perinatal period, Ranum recommended paying especially close attention, “During this period, claims are more common, injuries are more severe, and indemnities paid are the highest.” The broader recommendations cited in the study include improving existing strategies and procedures, especially focusing on improving communication between doctors and their patients about information relating to “follow-up visits, about warning signs that require immediate action, and about referrals to other specialists.” Given the enormous cost and tragedy of getting this wrong, pediatricians and obstetricians should urgently adopt this study’s recommendations.

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