Chicago patients visit doctors with the expectation of an accurate diagnosis -- maybe not on the first visit but eventually. We trust doctors to get it right, but that doesn't happen as much as patients would like to believe. Misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses are frequent occurrences, even for common illnesses.
You've probably heard or read more about wrong-site surgeries or drug errors than medical malpractice cases involving wrong diagnoses. However, misdiagnoses have been estimated to happen in up to 20 percent of all patients' cases. The problem is persistent and, according to medical authorities and researchers, difficult to solve.
Researchers in 1991 reported 14 percent of all medical errors were the result of a misdiagnosis. The reason for mistakes in three-fourths of those cases was negligence. Fast forward to a recent study made in veterans' hospitals, where most mistakes were tied to common -- not rare -- conditions.
Misdiagnoses also get little attention in the medical community. The founder of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine is unaware of any U.S. hospitals keeping track of these types of mistakes. Diagnostic errors have been blamed on thinking flaws, doctors' egos, on-the-job pressure, dependence on technology and a general lack of interest.
Ninety-six percent of 6,000 doctors who took part in a 2011 survey agreed diagnostic mistakes could be avoided. Nearly 3,000 doctors in that survey admitted they came across these errors about once a month.
Missed or delayed diagnoses are the No. 1 reasons for malpractice lawsuits. In many cases, patients simply switch doctors for a second opinion without filing any liability claims. In the worst cases, patients stick by a doctor without questioning a diagnosis and suffer severe harm or die.
No single reason causes diagnostic mistakes, making any efforts to correct them as complicated as the problem. Patients injured by a missed or delayed diagnosis can turn to Illinois civil courts to hold negligent physicians accountable.