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Medical errors cause delayed diagnoses, deaths

Victor Lewin - Friday, September 25, 2015

A report released earlier this week from the Institute of Medicine in the United States indicated that all patients will likely be misdiagnosed or have their diagnosis delayed on at least once occasion during their lives. The consequences of delaying treatment can be devastating and potentially fatal.

Researchers identified "neglect" and "inattention" stemming from these mistakes as causing patients unacceptable damage. Worse, due to the increased complexity of medical care, these mistakes are projected to intensify.

Below are some diagnostic errors cited in the report:

  • A pulmonary embolism was mistaken for an asthma attack, leading to a 33-year-old woman's death.
  • A woman in her early 50's with a familial history of coronary disease asked for a referral for a stress test from her doctor, numerous times. Her appointment was set 90 days after her first request; she died that day of coronary artery disease.
  • When a misread X-ray resulted in a diagnosis of upper respiratory infection instead of pneumonia, a 55-year-old man died.
  • Trauma center docs never ran a CT scan on a young stabbing victim. Consequently, they failed to note the penetrating knife wound to his brain.
  • Failing to test levels of a chemical in a newborn infant's blood caused him to experience preventable brain damage.

Often times, different factors combine to create these medical errors. Two primary causes are a lack of communication and the culture that fails to encourage disclosing mistakes.

Nurses and doctors can lower the error risk by remaining approachable to questions from patients about their diagnoses and treatment regimens. One study cited by researchers showed up to 87 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer didn't speak up if their medical care was compromised.

When your health or longevity is adversely affected by medical mistakes, remember that you do have legal avenues available to you should you decide to seek compensation.

Source: CNN, "Doctor error, sometimes fatal, has no easy cure in sight, researchers say," John Bonifield, Sept. 22, 2015

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