Misdiagnosis can be very dangerous. If a patient is misdiagnosed they will often not receive the treatment that they need or are given treatment for the wrong condition. Being treated for the wrong condition can be detrimental because the patient is not receiving the treatment they need and the treatment they are receiving can lead to harm.
A 6 year old girl arrived at a New York hospital after having suffered a night of nausea and fatigue, and her blood sugar level was five times higher than normal. Her body required insulin to process the high levels of glucose in her system. However she did not receive the insulin because her doctor diagnosed her with type 2 diabetes rather than type 1 diabetes.
Since she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a condition that is not as urgent and can be fixed with diet, exercise, and medication, the girl did not receive the treatment she needed. She died because of this misdiagnosis. Since type 2 diabetes is very rare in children under the age of 10, that the doctor misdiagnosed this condition is confusing and tragic. In fact a 6 year old who has diabetes has a 99.99 percent chance of having type 1 diabetes. The jury in this case found the doctor who misdiagnosed the child to be 100 percent liable for the child’s death
This case is just one example of how serious misdiagnosis is for patients. A study released in April by Johns Hopkins has found that misdiagnosis accounts for the majority of legal payouts of all medical malpractice claims. The researchers for this study analyzed over 350,000 medical malpractice cases over a 25 year time period. Of all of those cases, more than a third of the total amount paid out was because of a misdiagnosis. This shows that diagnostic errors may be the biggest patient safety and medical malpractice issue in the country.
Unfortunately, misdiagnosis errors are very difficult to measure and track because they often take time to detect. Usually there is a gap in time between when a doctor makes an incorrect diagnosis and the problems be patient begins to suffer. This gap makes it difficult to identify what caused the problem.
Hospitals have started implementing “decision-support systems” in an attempt to improve this situation. These systems use computer programs to prompt doctors to check for alternative diagnoses after being presented with a patient’s symptoms. The hope is that a doctor will keep an open mind when diagnosing a patient rather than zeroing in on a single diagnosis. This may help to prevent other tragedies like the one above from occurring.
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