Despite advances in diagnostic technologies, misdiagnosis remains one of the most common and potentially deadly types of medical errors. Researchers estimate that inaccurate, delayed or missed diagnoses account for the death or permanent disability of over 100,000 U.S. patients every year.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine has found that there are three broad categories of disease that account for the vast majority of misdiagnosis cases: cancers, vascular events and infections.
The “big three” conditions
The research team called these diseases “the big three” because they make up almost 75% of all cases of misdiagnosis leading to serious harm to the patient. Among these three, cancers accounted for 37% of cases, vascular episodes 22.8% and infections 13.5%.
The most common types of “big three” diseases
The study found that almost half of all serious cases of diagnostic error involved fifteen “big three” diseases:
- Cancers: lung, breast, prostate, colorectal and skin
- Vascular events: stroke, heart attack, aortic dissection and aneurysm, venous thromboembolism and arterial thromboembolism
- Infections: sepsis, spinal infection, encephalitis, meningitis, endocarditis and pneumonia
By analyzing malpractice insurance claims, the Johns Hopkins team also found that the single biggest cause of diagnostic errors is a failure of clinical judgment, which accounted for over 85% of cases.
In the case of vascular and infection-related disease, failure to notice key signs quickly can easily prove fatal. When it comes to progressive, potentially aggressive conditions like cancer, misdiagnosis can rob individuals of the opportunity for early-intervention treatments before the spread is irreparable. Patients and their families who have experienced this form of medical error should know that health care providers may be liable for their negligence under the law.