You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is. Unfortunately, millions of Americans suffer every year because their doctors, radiologists, or other health care providers make catastrophic errors when diagnosing their conditions. An incorrect or missed diagnosis can – and does with alarming frequency – lead directly to a failure to appropriately treat a patient’s illness or to an ineffective course of treatment that often causes more harm than good. A recently released study reveals the extent of the damage that results from misdiagnoses and how such mistakes become the basis for a disproportionate number of medical malpractice claims.


Published in the journal Diagnosis in July, the peer-reviewed paper by researchers from Johns Hopkins University concluded that 34 percent of all medical malpractice claims involving a patient’s death or serious disability arose from an inaccurate or delayed diagnosis.

The “Big Three” Conditions That Are Most Often Misdiagnosed

Of those cases resulting in death or severe patient harm, nearly 75 percent of them involved a delayed or incorrect diagnosis of one of what the researchers call the “big three” conditions: cancers, vascular events, and infections. Within those “big three,” the specific conditions or events most cited as involving missed or untimely diagnoses were:

  • Stroke
  • Sepsis
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart attack
  • Venous thromboembolism
  • Aortic aneurysm and dissection
  • Arterial thromboembolism
  • Meningitis and encephalitis
  • Spinal infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Endocarditis (a heart infection) and
  • Breast, colorectal, prostate, and skin cancers

Causes of Missed and Delayed Diagnoses

After analyzing the data, the Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that diagnostic errors are overwhelmingly (85 percent) the result of poor medical analysis and decision-making. “Serious harms are disproportionately due to failures in clinical judgment, rather than problems with communication or closing the loop on test results.”

These “failures of clinical judgment” can take many forms, any one of which can lead to disastrous patient consequences. These failures include:

  • Failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests.
  • Mistakes by doctors in interpreting test results.
  • Insufficient physical examination.
  • Disregard of patient complaints.
  • Failure or delay in referring the patient to a specialist.
  • Failure to perform regular and recommended screenings.
  • Failure to provide appropriate follow-up.

Millions of Misdiagnoses and Billions of Dollars in Medical Malpractice Claims

While the study did not look at the extent of harm caused by missed and delayed diagnoses, it did reference previous studies that suggest that 12 million Americans suffer a diagnostic error each year in primary care and that 33 percent of these diagnostic errors resulted in “serious permanent damage” or “immediate or inevitable death.” This translates to at least 4 million patients who suffered serious harm, including at least 1.7 million who passed away because of diagnostic errors.

The same researcher who led this new study also authored a report in 2013 in which he concluded that over the previous 25 years, nearly $39 billion in medical malpractice payouts were for claims based upon alleged missed or delayed diagnoses.

Speak With a Michigan Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one has suffered because of a diagnostic mistake, you are clearly not alone. Misdiagnosis is an all too common and all too preventable occurrence, but it can often be difficult for patients or their families to recognize such errors. This is where experienced medical malpractice lawyers can help. If you believe a missed or delayed diagnosis caused you or a family member harm, the medical malpractice lawyers of Sommers Schwartz can thoroughly investigate the situation, uncover the truth, and pursue compensation for your losses.

Please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group for a free consultation to review your case.