The Internet Journal on Family Practice recently published a study titled The 5 Most Common Misdiagnoses: A Meta-Analysis of Autopsy and Medical Malpractice Data. The study reports that one of the most common misdiagnoses is infection. Pulmonary embolism and heart attack were the next most prevalent conditions that were likely to be misdiagnosed. The study also found that several dangerous malignancies were likely to be misdiagnosed: breast cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer. As an Ohio medical malpractice attorney, I am not surprised by these findings since they are consistent with my own experience.
Under Ohio law, not every misdiagnosis gives rise to a medical negligence lawsuit. When there is a misdiagnosis, an experienced lawyer, working closely with a nurse or physician, will first determine whether it resulted from a preventable medical error. This requires a detailed review of all relevant medical records and studying standards of medical care in existence at the time. When a suspected medical error is found, then Ohio law requires that the medical attorney contact a specialist in the area of medicine to review the records and confirm, via a written affidavit of merit, whether a medical mistake was made. Legally speaking, medical negligence occurs under Ohio law if a misdiagnosis occurred because a physician or nurse fell below accepted standards of medical or nursing care and the deviation contributed to patient harm. Often, in the setting of a misdiagnosis, the “harm” is a delay in diagnosis that leads to further complications, a worsened prognosis and a poor outcome.

Examples of Misdiagnoses

For example, in a case involving a pulmonary embolism (PE), let’s say a patient presents with signs and symptoms that could potentially be associated with PE. The physicians obtain a specialized CT scan to evaluate the patient’s lungs for blood clots. Now, suppose the radiologist reports that the scan shows no evidence of pulmonary embolism, yet the scan was inconclusive and could not rule-out a life-threatening embolism; but, doctors rely on the faulty interpretation and assume that there is no reason to consider a PE any further and discharge the patient even though the diagnosis is unclear. The patient later develops additional clots which impair his breathing further and lead to his death. The substandard care would be the failure to properly advise the patient that he may have a PE and the failure to treat him prophylactically for that condition, while further evaluation was performed. The harm would be the fact that the patient did not receive life-saving treatment – clot prevention medicine such as antiplatelet medicine or anticoagulants – and died as a result. This would be a case worth pursuing.

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