Types of Medical Malpractice Insurance

Misdiagnosis & Delayed Diagnosis


Most Common Cases of Misdiagnosis & Delayed Diagnosis

Delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis malpractice cases involve any instance in which failure to recognize symptoms or complications result in aggravation of the existing condition. They are both a fairly common form of medical practice. A study by the National Patient Safety Foundation found that, amongst those surveyed, 40% believed they had been victims of medical misdiagnosis or a similar error. Additionally, another study which reviewed information about medical malpractice claims in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and France, found that 26% to 63% of claims were related to medical misdiagnosis.

Some of the most common medical misdiagnosis cases include cancer (breast, ovarian, colon, prostate, melanoma and lung), diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, and lymph node inflammation in adults, and meningitis in children. These misdiagnoses often occurred due to:

  • Failure to screen the patient for a condition
  • Not referring the patient to a specialist
  • Failure to follow up with the patient
  • Failure to further investigate potential causes of presented symptoms
  • Misinterpretation of lab results

It's a thin line between complications to diagnose due to similar symptoms for completely different conditions and failure to properly diagnose and treat a patient. When a doctor fails to diagnose for a serious illness, this can cause irreversible damages to the patient’s quality of life and even death so, it is very important to take steps to avoid and lessen the occurrence of these cases.


Which Specialties Are Affected the Most?

According to data for the 2017 Medscape report, more than half of the medical misdiagnosis cases were against primary care physicians. Furthermore, data from the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the following specialties are the most commonly affected by a delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis lawsuit:

  • Oncology. Delayed diagnosis of cancer
  • Pulmonary Medicine. Failure to diagnose pulmonary embolism or lung cancer
  • OB/GYN. Missed diagnosis of fetal anomalies
  • Gastroenterology. Misdiagnosis associated with colonic malignancies


What Can Practitioners Do to Limit the Occurrence of Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis?

In order to not only limit the occurrence of delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis, but also provide patients with better care and treatment, medical practitioners should implement the following:

  • Spend enough time to effectively communicate with patients and establish a patient-first community
  • Encourage patients to know their own health history
  • Have up-to-date files regarding patients’ medical history
  • Create a problem list for each patient highlighting chronic and acute conditions, sign and symptoms
  • Build a no-fault, fail-safe system with regards to diagnostics that includes second looks, follow-ups, discussion with patients, and clear annotations in findings
  • Ensure all members of medical team are on the same page about diagnosis when multiple practitioners are involved

Being a medical practitioner comes with its rewards and risks. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are often the first step leading to further complications in patient care. Having a comprehensive plan to approach patient diagnosis and treatment goes a long way to ensure the safety of your patients and protect and your reputation as a medical practitioner.

 Read more about common types of medical malpractice cases here.