If you thought that surgical errors, wrongly prescribed drugs, or other health care mistakes prompted the majority of medical malpractice lawsuits, think again.

According to a recent study from BMJ Quality & Safety discussed in a New York Times post, malpractice claims most commonly arise from errors in diagnosis. Researchers reviewed 25 years’ worth of information from the National Practitioner Data Bank, an organization that records actions taken by state licensing authorities against health care practitioners.

Here’s what they discovered:

  • In terms or payments, diagnostic mistakes account for 28.6% medical malpractice payouts; treatment and surgical errors were the second and third most common, and all other errors including obstetric, medication, monitoring, anesthesia, etc., accounted for only a combined 20% of malpractice payments
  • More striking, however, diagnostic errors were found to have caused 33.8% of disabilities and nearly 40% of patient deaths that resulted in malpractice payouts

According to Dr. David E. Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins and a senior author of the study, “This is a major health problem. There’s a lot of room for improvement. You can’t get the treatment right if you don’t get the diagnosis right.”