According to a recent study released by John Hopkins, medical misdiagnoses were responsible for more than 33 percent of the total payments for medical malpractice claims. Losing a family member due to a healthcare professional or doctor’s failure to diagnose a condition or illness in time is difficult to fathom. Nevertheless, reports of misdiagnosed conditions harming patients and their families routinely make news headlines.

Anyone can be misdiagnosed. Montana residents will find it interesting to learn that a six-year-old girl recently died from complications related to her Type I diabetes at a hospital that she went to for medical help. The girl presented with a blood sugar that was nearly five times the normal level. Apparently, her doctor, who was a pediatric endocrinologist, had diagnosed her with Type II diabetes and did not give her insulin, which the girl’s body needed to process glucose. An expert on diabetes in children who testified in this case indicated that generally Type II is rare in children under the age of 10, and if a child of six had diabetes, it was almost always Type I. A jury found the doctor liable in the death of the six-year-old.

A lead researcher noted that diagnostic errors could be the biggest patient safety issue in the country. However, they are difficult to track and measure since there tends to be a lag between a physician misdiagnosis and a patient’s negative outcome due to that misdiagnosis. However, some cases of misdiagnosis are fairly straightforward. For instance, in one case, because doctors missed a man’s brain aneurysm, he suffered a massive stoke. In another case, a woman who was told by her doctor that the lump in her breast was not cancerous, yet she later died of breast cancer.

In general, all healthcare professionals have an ongoing duty to provide a reasonable standard of care. When they fail to do so and harm to a patient results, they may be held liable for damages. But, every circumstance and case is different. Thus, where one believes that they or a loved one has suffered harm due to a doctor’s negligence, they should take steps to understand and explore their legal options, if any are available.

Source: The Village Voice, “Type Miscast: Misdiagnosis Is Most Common Cause of Medical Malpractice Payouts,” Albert Samaha, Oct. 4, 2013