Early detection of the most serious diseases and health conditions such as cancer, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm and various infections is of utmost importance for several reasons. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the greater the chance of successful treatment. Also, with most diseases, the treatment is the most effective if the disease is diagnosed early and properly. Testing for the aforementioned diseases and health conditions should be done thoroughly and swiftly. Regardless of where it takes place, proper and prompt testing can mean the difference between life and death for the patient. In ideal world, all doctors should be able, sufficiently knowledgeable and willing to order life saving tests (such as mammograms, biopsies, CAT scans, blood tests), but they don’t. The instances in which doctors fail to detect and diagnose a potentially deadly health condition happen very often. The reasons for this are many and varied but the most common ones are negligence, fatigue, under staffing, time pressure, ignorance, cost cuts or doctors simply failing to follow up on test results or wrongly interpreting them.
According to a recent study published in the BMJ Quality & Safety journal, each year, close to 12 million people in the United States are misdiagnosed. This amounts to one in twenty adult patients. In half of those cases, late diagnosis, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a disease or health condition have the possibility to result in serious harm and even death. Even common diseases like pneumonia, bronchitis, gallstone and urinary tract infections are often misdiagnosed. The sad truth is that despite their frequency and impact, such diagnostic errors have been ignored for the most part. In most extreme cases, misdiagnosis can mean a treatable illness becoming fatal. Although misdiagnosis is preventable, the truth remains that approximately 20% of all illnesses that result in death are misdiagnosed at first.
These are the most common diseases where late diagnosis, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose occur quite frequently:
- Heart attack
- Celiac disease
- Lyme disease
- Thyroid conditions
- Aortic dissection
- Pulmonary embolism
Late diagnosis, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a disease or medical condition that results in serious harm and even death constitutes medical malpractice which, in turn, gives the injured patient or the deceased patient’s loved ones the right to bring a late or misdiagnosis lawsuit against the healthcare provider.
A 25-year summary (1986–2010) of US malpractice, analyzed by the National Practitioner Data Bank, concluded that “diagnostic errors appear to be the most common, most costly and most dangerous of medical mistakes.” Out of 350,706 paid claims, those relating to late diagnosis, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose accounted for the highest share in total settlements (35.2%) while the most frequent outcomes of late and misdiagnosis were death and permanent injuries.