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Diagnosing medical malpractice

Medical care is intended to alleviate sickness and suffering. However, negligent treatment can cause preventable death or injury and form the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit in Indiana and elsewhere. A recent report blames diagnostic errors as the biggest source of medical malpractice claims from 2013 to 2017.

According to the report, published by the malpractice service provider Coveys, patient diagnosis errors were related to 33 percent of these claims. Poor clinical decisions were involved with over half of those malpractice claims.

Surgical or procedural claims constituted 24 percent of claims and were the second highest reason for medical malpractice claims. Medical management claims were third and were related to 14 percent of claims.

Patient death was involved with approximately 36 percent of the 10,618 diagnosis malpractice claims reviewed in the report. The growing trend to move patient care from inpatient to outpatient settings may account for its finding that 36 percent of claims were in outpatient facilities.

Diagnosis-related claims have risen even though other causes for these claims have dropped over the years. Misdiagnosis is often caused by physicians being tied down with heavy workloads and insulated work environments that hamper a thorough diagnosis.

The report cited specific errors in the diagnosis process. Approximately 33 percent of lawsuits involved a doctor's failure to properly evaluate a patient such as obtaining an appropriate family history. Lab testing was involved with approximately 52 percent of claims and involved a physician selecting the wrong test, improperly conducting the test or misinterpreting the results.

Involving other doctors in the diagnosis and clinical discusses usually improves diagnosis, according to the report's author. Also, doctors should be more transparent about their uncertainty about a case and seek advice from their colleagues.

A family who suffers the loss of a loved one through medical negligence should consult an attorney about their rights and to investigate their claim. An attorney can help gather evidence and pursue compensation in court or in settlement negotiations.

Source: Modern Healthcare, "Diagnostic errors are largest contributor to medical malpractice claims," By Maria Castellucci, March 13, 2018

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