A 2019 study published in a peer-reviewed medical journal suggests that as many as 80,000 people die in California and around the country each year because their doctors fail to spot a serious disease. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine came to this sobering conclusion after analyzing more than 11,000 medical malpractice cases that ended with either a settlement or jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
The big three
After sorting the malpractice claims according to groups of diagnosis codes linked to some of the nation’s leading causes of death, the researchers discovered that almost 75% of the cases that resulted in the patient suffering serious harm involved doctors misdiagnosing cancer, infections or vascular events. The researchers also discovered that a missed cancer diagnosis was a factor in more than a third of the cases where the patient either died or was left permanently disabled. These mistakes usually occurred in an outpatient setting due to errors of judgement.
Addressing diagnostic errors will require more funding to pay for improved doctor training and a reevaluation of priorities. To highlight this point, the study mentions that the federal government allocates more money to smallpox research than it does to improving diagnostic accuracy. Funds are allocated to smallpox research even though the disease was eradicated in the United States more than 50 years ago.
To prevail in a medical malpractice case linked to a cancer misdiagnosis, the plaintiff must show that the doctor’s mistake was the direct cause of their harm. This can be challenging because the plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases are often already seriously ill when their doctors made mistakes. To overcome this challenge, personal injury attorneys with experience in this area may call on oncologists and other medical specialists. These specialists could show how the treatment provided failed to meet generally accepted standards of care, and they may explain that the patient would have enjoyed a better outcome if their doctor made an accurate diagnosis in a timely manner.