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Diagnostic errors in New York: What you should know

Diagnostic errors are more common than you may think and can cause substantial harm to patients.

In 2013, Johns Hopkins Medicine released the findings of a study on diagnostic errors in the medical industry. Researchers found that as many as 160,000 people suffer due to a mistake in diagnosing a condition. Further, these errors account for more medical malpractice claims than any other issue and cause the most harm.

Diagnostic errors are highly preventable. Both doctors and physicians in New York must have an understanding of why these happen and take steps to avoid them.

What is a diagnostic error?

There are several ways that a diagnostic error can manifest. The first is that the physician misses the signs of a condition altogether. Or, the doctor could mistakenly diagnose the patient with the wrong condition. Lastly, a doctor could correctly determine that a patient has an illness, but the diagnosis happens later than it should have.

Why does this happen?

There are a number of reasons that physicians make mistakes during this phase of treatment. Individual biases can come into play. For example, if a physician sees 10 patients all presenting the same symptoms, he or she may be inclined to diagnose them all with the same condition, even though additional scrutiny could reveal that someone is suffering from something different and potentially more serious.

An error can also occur because a physician fails to order additional testing that could reveal the reason behind someone's symptoms. A doctor also could read a scan incorrectly or fail to follow up with a patient.

How serious are these mistakes?

A diagnostic mistake can be the difference between life and death. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a study involving autopsies found that 9 percent of the patients involved had suffered from a diagnostic error. Further, of all the preventable mistakes that occur in a hospitalized setting, diagnostic fumbles accounted for 17 percent.

What can doctors do to avoid a mistake?

Physicians and medical facilities must recognize the cognitive biases that can lead to these mistakes. For example, consulting with peers on a patient's symptoms could help sidestep an individual's bias. Following up on testing promptly can prevent a delay in diagnosis as well.

How can patients prevent diagnostic errors?

Though the responsibility of a diagnosis does not fall on a patient, there are some items that patients can due to increase the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis. The first is to seek a second opinion, especially when dealing with any serious condition. Additionally, patients must be sure to provide physicians with an accurate picture of all symptoms, medications and past medical history.

When a diagnostic error does take place, New York law permits people to seek recovery through filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can help victims of negligence navigate these issues.