The Law Offices of John Phebus

Misdiagnosis is a common medical mistake

Arizona patients may have heard horror stories about medical mistakes like wrong-site surgeries or botched prescriptions, but they may not be aware of another common doctor error: misdiagnosis. Studies indicate that physicians get diagnoses wrong 5 to 15 percent of the time, and the consequences can be deadly.

Medical misdiagnosis made national headlines last year when doctors in Dallas failed to detect the Ebola virus in a Liberian man, sending him home with antibiotics. However, most misdiagnosis cases are not so obvious. Experts say that, unlike a blatant surgical error such as leaving sponges in a patient, diagnostic mistakes are often difficult to trace because they are a cognitive error. Sometimes misdiagnosis occurs because of faulty equipment or incomplete patient records, but it commonly happens because a doctor is guilty of "confirmation bias" or chooses to "anchor" onto a diagnosis without considering other possibilities.

Often misdiagnoses go undetected because the treatment for the incorrect diagnosis ends up curing the true ailment. However, some diagnostic errors can kill. For example, pediatric residents now review the case study of a 15-year-old Minnesota girl who was misdiagnosed with a gallbladder problem when she actually had the Epstein-Barr virus, which puts patients at risk for severe bleeding. She bled to death after gallbladder surgery.

According to a medical liability insurance company, misdiagnosis is the third most common reason for medical professional negligence claims. Arizona residents who believes they have been harmed by an improper diagnosis may want to speak with an attorney to determine the recourse that may be available for recouping the damages that have been sustained.

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