How Many Americans Does Medical Malpractice Impact Annually?

Everyone knows that medical malpractice happens, but until recently, it’s been hard to determine the scope of the problem. After all, there’s a fine line between normal and unavoidable risks or side effects of medical care and harm caused by negligence. However, a recent analysis by expert researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine has potentially answered the question of how many people are harmed by medical malpractice in the US each year. 

That answer is jaw-dropping. The Johns Hopkins survey suggests that about 795,000 residents are killed or permanently disabled by malpractice annually. This includes approximately 371,000 deaths and 424,000 disabling injuries caused by misdiagnoses and related failures by the medical establishment. 

If that’s the case, it would make medical malpractice the third leading cause of death nationwide across all age groups. It would also play a significant role in the top two causes of death: heart disease and cancer. In short, malpractice appears to be the biggest avoidable cause of death and disability in the United States.

The survey also explored the most frequent types of malpractice. The researchers focused on misdiagnoses in particular since these are typically easiest to avoid through basic due diligence. They found that 15 diseases led to 51% of all serious harms examined in the study. Furthermore, just five issues led to 39% of serious harms:

  • Stroke
  • Sepsis
  • Pneumonia
  • Venous thromboembolism
  • Lung cancer

The error rate for studied conditions varied but was often over 10% for the issues causing the greatest harm. For example, 17.5% of strokes that led to death or disability were initially misdiagnosed in potential instances of malpractice. The researchers concluded that cutting misdiagnoses for these conditions by just 50% could reduce overall fatalities and permanent disabilities in the US by 150,000 annually. 

While occasional misdiagnoses may be unavoidable, many are caused by medical professionals failing to live up to the standards of their field. If you have been disabled or lost a loved one to a condition that was initially misdiagnosed, you may have grounds for a malpractice claim. But why are these misdiagnoses so common?

The High Risks of Misdiagnoses

Not every misdiagnosis is due to malpractice. It is normal to rule out serious but common conditions before investigating rarer conditions since these common conditions are, by definition, more likely.

However, the diagnostic process is not perfect. Medicine is a science, meaning diagnoses are subject to the scientific method. The medical professional who makes a diagnosis is supposed to build a hypothesis about what is causing a patient’s symptoms, then perform tests and collect evidence to confirm or disprove that hypothesis. 

The problem is that healthcare workers face much higher stakes than other scientists. When they misdiagnose someone, it can have permanent consequences. As such, medical professionals are supposed to err on the side of caution, perform more tests, and assume the worst so it can be ruled out first. 

Negligent professionals don’t always do this. If they do the wrong tests and nothing comes up, they may dismiss the patient’s concerns as being “all in their head,” failing to diagnose the issue. Similarly, medical workers are often unconsciously biased against women and minorities, causing them to dismiss reported symptoms like pain. Biases can make them declare someone anxious or drug-seeking when they have serious conditions. 

Signs Your Misdiagnosis Was Malpractice

Misdiagnoses caused by medical malpractice are often indicated by:

  • Refusing to order tests or investigate patient symptoms for no reason.
  • Failing to order routine tests based on symptoms, age, or gender.
  • Dismissing patient symptoms or claiming it’s “all in their head.”
  • Failing to identify common symptoms of a severe condition like a stroke, heart attack, pneumonia, or infection.
  • Diagnosing someone with a significantly different disease than was the case, such as claiming a woman has anxiety when she is experiencing a heart attack.

If your healthcare team refused to acknowledge your symptoms or dismissed your concerns, it’s more likely that your misdiagnosis resulted from malpractice. 

What to Do About Medical Malpractice Misdiagnoses

If a misdiagnosis has seriously or permanently harmed you, you have options. You may be able to file a lawsuit against the party that misdiagnosed you to hold them accountable for their negligence. Here’s what to do if you think you have been negligently misdiagnosed:

  • Take an advocate with you to appointments. Sometimes, having someone with you can be enough to make negligent healthcare workers treat you with more care. Your advocate’s presence can encourage them to perform tests they may have ignored. 
  • Ask that the facility document its refusal to diagnose you. If your healthcare team refuses to perform tests, provide treatment, or offer a referral to another facility, tell them to include this in your medical record. If you continue to suffer harm, this is invaluable evidence that they are at fault. 
  • Get a second opinion. Whenever possible, talk to an independent medical professional about your concerns. An outside opinion can help you find an accurate diagnosis faster, reducing the harm you experience and allowing you to hold the negligent team accountable. 
  • Document your symptoms and treatment. Keep accurate and thorough records of your health issues, with pictures if relevant. The documentation will support your eventual accurate diagnosis and demonstrate the unnecessary suffering you experienced.
  • Talk to a medical malpractice lawyer. A skilled attorney will walk you through the complex process of filing a California medical malpractice claim. 

Fight Back Against Malpractice and Misdiagnoses in California

A misdiagnosis caused by negligence can change your life forever. If you were misdiagnosed and became disabled because of the delay in treatment, you can get help. At the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, we have three decades of experience helping Los Angeles malpractice victims seek justice for their losses. Get in touch today to learn how we can help you fight back against negligent medical teams and seek compensation for your harmful misdiagnosis. 

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